Are Gallatin's Citizens On The Hook (And Ladder) for Woolhawk?
Why is no one talking about the fire station? How much is that going to cost us? I haven't heard the Economic Development Department talk about who is going to pay for it, but the annexation plan of service states that a new Fire Station #6 is needed, and will be built because of project Woolhawk. Is Woolhawk paying for the new Fire Station? I hope so, because this will be expensive. James Fenton, the Executive Director of the Economic Development Department stated on Tuesday during the City Council Work Session that "We will be covering all of our costs, and with excess." Does this include the annexation costs to the City? If not, how can we afford to build a new fire station when our budget has just been cut significantly because of Covid-19? Will we be issuing a bond to pay for it? We don't want more debt. How can we afford to pay for any more debt without cutting other City services or raising taxes? I remember when three years ago, City Council was discussing building the new Fire Station #5. It cost $2,507,000.00 plus $455,047.99 for one fire truck. The discussion went on for months, and the price for the fire truck was discussed at length, purchasing as compared to leasing was discussed, and how the City was going to afford it was discussed in much detail. It was stated that salaries and benefits to staff a fire station costs approximately $800,000.00 to $1Million per year. Will the Payments we receive from Woolhawk cover those annual expenses? Not according to the numbers from the Executive Director of the Economic Development Department, James Fenton. He stated that for the first 6 years,( besides the money for permit fees), the City will receive less than $100,000.00/year in taxes. He said at full build out (six buildings), Gallatin would be receiving $1.25M per year (the county will receive $2.9M per year). But they have only committed to two buildings, so if they only build two, Gallatin will receive about $525,000.00 per year. So who will pay for the firemen's salaries? Will our property taxes go up to cover these extra expenses? Is there a cost analysis for what this project will actually bring to Gallatin each year and how much it is going to cost us? Several times, the Executive Director of the Economic Development Department said that Gallatin would be "made whole" with this project when discussing the utilities infrastructure. What about the Fire Station costs, and will project Woolhawk be absorbing those costs, or will Gallatin's Citizens and Homeowners be on the hook for that?
And what about the Police? The Annexation Plan of Service states "After the effective date of the annexation, the Gallatin Police Department will provide police patrol, response to calls, and other routine police services to the properties. The Police Department indicated that additional police officers and departmental vehicles will be needed to provide service to this area." Wait a minute, we just cut our budget. How is this going to work? Hopefully it won't involve raising our taxes.
I would love to see more Fire Stations, Fire Trucks, Police Cars, more jobs for the fire and police departments. The math needs to work though. We can't burden the citizens with more taxes while handing out significant tax breaks to multi-billion dollar corporations. And it's not just Facebook getting the breaks. On Wednesday, the Industrial Development Board approved two PILOT(payment in lieu of tax) programs, one for "Woolhawk" (data center), and one for "Mohawk" (a fabric company coming to Gallatin). How much corporate welfare have we been handing out? Vice Mayor Steve Camp said on Tuesday at the meeting, "This kind of deal is what got Nashville in the problem they are in right now. This is the fourth one we've done since I have been on the council, and they haven't gone well. I'm not against this project whatsoever, but we are sure giving up a ton-of-a-bunch-of-stuff, and I don't see where we are getting a whole lot." Councilman Craig Hayes said "You've got to look at it long term." Mayor Paige Brown said “I feel like we are actually in a really good place because there's no way the city is out anything. There is no risk for the city. This is revenue that we are going to realize that we would not have realized without this project." So, first of all - thank you, Mr. Camp for your common sense comment and for not just going along with the salesman's pitch that Everything about this is great!! Let's buy it!! Maybe it is great, but instead of the sales pitch, tell us realistically what about it is good and what is bad. As for the long term, sure, Facebook's property taxes will pay for the fire station after the 20 year abatement is over. But what about in the meantime? Who is going to pay for the Fire Station?
One more quick thing, because I am very concerned we are going to be hit with a tax increase next month. City Council votes on the tax rate June 1st, and we all need to be paying attention to what our elected representatives are voting on. The very controversial Meadows Development also had Fire and Police requirements in its Annexation Plan of Service. The Meadows annexation is up in front of the County Commission for approval this Monday. If they vote yes, Gallatin is on the hook to provide Fire and Police service there too. We can't afford the Meadow's annexation. Can we afford the Woolhawk annexation? At Tuesday's meeting, Councilman Jimmy Overton said "This is going to be a Win-Win for the City of Gallatin. It will put our city on another map." That very well might be true. But at what cost? Can the citizens of Gallatin afford to be on that map? If we are following Nashville's playbook, how many of us can afford to live on that map?