Nashville's public safety agencies sacrifice personnel requests to stick to lean budget

The purse strings are going to be tight for Metro this coming fiscal year.

Nashville Mayor Freddie O'Connell's proposed $3.27 billion budget is leaner compared to years past as anticipated revenue growth slows throughout the state. He's asking departments to cut 1.4% to fund compensation increases for Metro employees while any extra money will go toward other priorities.

That means Nashville's public safety departments, like all other Metro agencies, will feel the strain. They'll have to sacrifice expansions of programs, personnel and defer technology requests to a later time.

"We don’t have a lot of fat, in fact we don’t have any fat in our department," Nashville Fire Chief William Swann said Wednesday during a budget hearing.

More: Nashville's proposed budget has city 'tightening our belt' for 2025. Here's what to know

Between the Nshville Fire and Police departments and the Davidson County Sheriff's Office, they're asking for 214 full-time employees. The Mayor's current proposed budget only grants the Sheriff's Office one new employee, who is transferring from another department.

Metro Nashville Police Department

The Metro Nashville Police Department requested 15 modifications to their proposed $317 million budget that would add an additional $24 million. Three of those line items were partially funded by the Mayor's proposed budget, and one — for the secondary employment unit which works hired security gigs — was fully funded.

The secondary employment unit is revenue neutral, Executive Administrator Samir Mehic said during the budget hearing Wednesday. While it costs $2.2 million up front, that money will be paid back to the department by the companies contracting to hire the officers.

The department asked for $451,400 for technology, $1.9 million for rent on a building for the Office of Professional Accountability and supplies, as well as $2.8 million for training and recruitment. The Mayor's proposed budget includes only $1.5 million total for those three requests.

Line items not included in the Mayor's budget proposal include:

The rapid response team, created in the wake of the Covenant School shooting last year to provide quick back-up for incidents at Nashville's schools, will have to be folded back into normal operations without the funding, Chief John Drake said Wednesday.

Aside from the rapid response team, without the funding they requested, response times will suffer, the chief said. The alternative police response unit takes reports by phone for certain low-level crimes, saving an officer on the road from responding. It employs 39 part-time, retired officers saving the department the cost of 18 full-time officers.

"If we had to collapse that, the part-time employees, we would no longer have them," the chief said.

Nashville Fire Department

The Nashville Fire Department requested 27 modifications to their $207 million budget for an additional $30 million. An adjustment of $372,000 for annual EMS in-service training, subsidized by the state, was included in the Mayor's proposed budget.

The majority of the department's requests are for personnel to create a staffing office, new medic units, a new fire truck company in South Nashville, squad truck response units, a special operation response team and other miscellaneous positions for a total of $18.3 million.

That personnel request also includes an expansion of the EMS REACH Program, which puts mental health clinicians in Nashville Fire Department ambulances.

"We are able to run REACH from Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. - two vehicles, two medics and two clinicians that run with us," Chief William Swann said Wednesday. "We want to expand the program to cover Saturday and Sunday, and instead of cutting it off at 8 p.m., we wanted to run it more into midnight."

The department's budget modification requests also include $100,000 for a fee study on ambulance rates. The last one was done in 2015, Swann said.

"Unfortunately the cost of doing business is very expensive," Swann said. "Medical supplies, post COVID, everything from purchasing medical supplies, to any type of materials we purchase, vehicles, everything has just been through the roof."

Davidson County Sheriff's Office

The Davidson County Sheriff's Office requested eight modifications to the proposed $116 million budget for an additonal $11.9 million. The Mayor's proposed budget included $10 million for most of those changes.

The largest line item is an adjustment of $9 million for increases in staffing and inmate care over the last year. The Mayor's budget currently allocated $8.5 million.

"We’re not necessarily asking for new monies. We’re asking for a significant hole to be patched," Sheriff Daron Hall said Wednesday.

Hall detailed how the jail population increased 23% last year, and 60% over the course of the pandemic. Without more correctional officers, they've resorted to overtime to fill those holes, driving up costs.

"We may be the only Sheriff's Office that COVID wasn’t our biggest challenge in 2020," he said. "We were asked to take over a private prison's population. It was complicated, difficult and we're all still feeling the effects of that budgetarily."

To add to that, Hall said recently convicted inmates are moving to state-run prisons at a slower rate. While the Sheriff's Office does get reimbursed to hold those inmates, dispersing of those funds can take up to two years.

The budget also includes money to account for the transfer of one Elections Commission employee to the Sheriff's Office to enhance access to voting rights services for inmates.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Nashville mayor's proposed city budget brings cuts to departments