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Empty Government Buildings Costing Taxpayers Millions -- Sky Arnold

Updated: Monday, April 28 2014, 10:56 PM CDT
Stream WZTV Fox 17 Newscasts LIVE starting with Fox 17 This Morning at 5am and News at 9pm.

Celina, Tenn --- Over the years Billy Biggs has been the face of Metro Animal Care and Control.

Fox 17 News has interviewed Biggs numerous times about animal issues but tonight he's in the news for a different reason.

Last week the Health Department placed Biggs and fellow animal control officer James White on paid administrative leave after discovering two prior complaints of animal abuse on the Bordeaux property and no record of an investigation.

"This is not a punishment.  This is not a disciplinary action," said Metro Health Department Spokesperson Brian Todd.

Todd says this action is simply part of the investigation into how animal control has been investigating dog fighting complaints.

Fox 17 news looked into Biggs' personnel file and we found consistent "competent" performance ratings and sometimes ratings of "outstanding."

The same is true of White's file.

Biggs does have 5 documented disciplinary actions in his file but none related to failing to follow up leads.

That record and all records relating to dog fighting for the past two years are now under review by a Metro Auditor.

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Most of us take Dan Lenahan's job for granted.

Lenahan breeds fish at the US Fish and Wildlife Fish Hatchery in Celina Tennessee that are eventually moved to lakes.

Those fish can't breed normally there because of the colder dam waters.

"We have to produce them because they don't do that on their own," said Lenahan.

The job used to involve actually living at the hatchery.

Two of those homes still remain even though the last person to live there was Andrew Currie 16 years ago.
     
"We no longer have a need for residences as part of the hatchery inventory," said Currie. "The reason we haven't demolished them is the money situation.  It takes money to demolish older structures."

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has looked at turning the homes into an office but that would cost more than the government thinks the property is worth and demolishing them is expensive too.

Instead workers are using the homes for storage but that comes with wasted resources.

 "We do have to spend several hours a week in the summer mowing and weedeating and it does take away the work we need to be doing down below," said Currie.

It's a small example of a much bigger problem.

Fox 17 News reviewed a 2011 list of excess properties released by the White House.

It's one of the few lists that are easily available to the public and Fox 17 discovered numerous wrong addresses and incomplete information.

David Wise with the US Government Accountability Office says it's an issue all across the country and the issue is making it more difficult to remove the properties.

 "In order to make intelligent property decisions on what to do with property you need a national strategy and you need strong data collection," said Wise.

Wise's office recently looked into the issue of excess properties.

The Federal Government lists 77 thousand under utilized or vacant properties that cost taxpayers $1.6 billion to keep up.

Wise says those numbers could be understated because the data isn't reliable.

 "Obviously there are many cases where to have property around that could be put to better use could be viewed as not the best use of resources," said Wise.

Wise says red tape keeps some of the properties on the books and the environmental costs to remove them is another that's especially important at the Oak Ridge facility in East Tennessee.

Oak Ridge was built to design the atom bomb but today one section of it has dozens of unused buildings costing taxpayers tens of millions.

 "It takes a lot of money to get these buildings that need to be torn down," said David Adeler with the U.S. Department of Energy.

Adeler is the manager of a program to do something about it.

Since 1996 he's been trying to convert one section of Oak Ridge into a private industrial park.

Adeler says the going has been slow because there are 500 acres of one of a kind property here.

"Some of the largest buildings ever built were built on this site," said Adeler.

Adeler's hope is that we will no longer be paying for those buildings in 2025.

The timetable is less clear at the Celina hatchery now that fish are the only ones living there.Empty Government Buildings Costing Taxpayers Millions -- Sky Arnold


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