WEB EXTRA: Mayoral Candidates Discuss Tax-Increment Financing

Posted at 11:46 AM, Jun 11, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-07 14:17:43-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Nashville's mayoral candidates said they heard from firefighters, police and other Nashville voters following a recent NewsChannel 5 investigation.

The series of reports, titled Building Boomtown, revealed many of Nashville's most prominent buildings are essentially off the property tax rolls.

Millions of dollars in property taxes generated by those buildings do not go toward city services and schools. Instead, their property taxes help pay for more development.

It's because of Nashville's use of a tax incentive called tax-increment financing, also known as TIF.

Investigative reporter Ben Hall moderated a mayoral forum on Tuesday. Six of the seven candidates attended and answered questions about TIF.

Hall questioned whether the candidates would change how the city uses TIF.

Most candidates said the tax incentive had been an important part of Nashville's growth -- and was an important tool for the mayor, but would examine its use in the future. (Watch the attached video for excerpts from their responses.)

Our investigation revealed that the Metro Council first declared downtown blighted in 1977, and then again in 2009, in order to keep developers eligible for the tax incentives. Despite Nashville's "It City" status, downtown is still considered blighted today -- and the downtown redevelopment district has been extended until the year 2040.

We also discovered that even after TIF loans are paid off, Metro continues to send property tax money generated from those buildings to MDHA, Metro's development agency, to fund more development.

That practice is likely to change in the near future, according to one candidate at the forum.

For example, the AT&T Building (also known as the Batman Building) generated $1.7 million in property taxes last year. But Metro's general fund, which pays for city services, only received $49,000, even though the building's TIF loan was paid off in 2002. The rest went to MDHA, which used it to help pay for the Omni Hotel.

The forum was sponsored by Southeast Business Forums and All About Care. Bill Freeman was scheduled to attend but sent word that he had a last-minute conflict.

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