Reporter

Nancy Amons is an award-winning member of the News4 Investigates team. She has been breaking stories in Middle Tennessee for more than 20 years.

Your tax dollars are paying for a new headquarters for the Davidson County Sheriff's Department.

But how much it will really cost is a mystery - and it points to a real problem with how Metro has funded some of its building projects.

Construction is in full swing on 74,000 square foot building at 710 South 5th Street. It will be home to the Sheriff Department's 200 employees.

But ask about the budget and the progress  for the project?   The sheriff  has no idea, and that’s a sore spot.

“When the headquarters of the Sheriff’s office is built, I should know what the budget is. What the cost is. How big it’s going to be,  and what do we need?  I can’t answer all those questions,”  Sheriff Daron Hall told News 4 Investigator Nancy Amons.

"We weren’t in charge of the project. We didn’t have the contractors working for us, as I had asked," Hall said.

Mayor John Cooper learned last week that the headquarters building  was already underway,   even though there wasn't enough money set aside to finish it.

Council appropriated 21 million in the 2016-2017 capital budget.  But the project will cost far more:  17 million more, said Mayor John Cooper.  

"So you are 17 million short on a project that is under construction NOW. Which you really can’t stop,"  Cooper said.

“Where was that supposed to come from?”  

The sheriff’s headquarters project is being overseen by Metro's department of  General Services.

They put the job out for bid.

Documents show Bell Construction was chosen in 2018 to  complete the project for $20.8 million.

Did general services think they could really build it for that?  Apparently not; a spokesperson for general services, Velvet Hunter, wrote Amons:

"we anticipated receiving full funding in the next capital spending plan.  If we do not receive that funding, we will halt construction.”

When Amons asked why the bid was accepted if the amount was not enough to finish the project, Hunter wrote:

“The bid from Bell was for evaluation purposes and was based upon basic program information.  If additional funding is approved, the contract will be amended to approximately $32M to cover design and construction expenses.”

"That was the norm of how business was conducted,” Sheriff Hall told Amons.

"The norm was a mess,"  said Amons.

“Right. Right. And I have shared that concern with Mayor Cooper," Hall said.

This isn't the first time the Sheriff has complained about this process,  which gives him no oversight over the bottom line.

Hall wrote a  letter then-mayor Megan Barry in 2015.  At the time,  general services was going to oversee the construction of the new jail.

Hall wasn't happy he would have no control of the project, and wrote that if there were  "... delays and increased costs..."  he wouldn't take responsibility.

News 4 Investigates isn’t the only one questioning the way metro funds projects without having the money on hand.

In an August 2019 letter to metro,  the Tennessee Comptroller’s office warned the city about borrowing for projects it could not afford.  

Sheriff Hall said he doesn’t want his headquarters building project to be stopped; it’s a project he said he needs, since his employees are scattered in various buildings all over town.

What needs to be stopped, he believes, is a process that clearly  doesn’t work.

"The city has been doing this for a long time,” Hall said.

"I believe we need to change the process moving forward but we're  not the example to set. We did it the way they asked us to do it."

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