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VOL. 128 | NO. 63 | Monday, April 01, 2013

City-County Swaps Grow More Complex

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Council members and Shelby County Commissioners are talking about a swap.

A city-county swap would see the Memphis Animal Shelter run by county government if the city would continue funding Memphis police officers in Memphis schools after the merger of Shelby County’s two public school systems.

(Daily News File Photo: Lance Murphey)

The Memphis Animal Shelter would be run by county government if the city would continue funding Memphis police officers in Memphis schools after the merger of Shelby County’s two public school systems.

But the swap is complicated by ruffled feathers and distrust over the emerging terms of the city’s end of funding for auto inspections and the state takeover of the obligation after county government passed on an interlocal agreement to run it.

“It is yet another in a piece of what we see as a regional amenity that is being borne by the citizens of Memphis,” council member Shea Flinn told county commissioners last week as he pitched the animal shelter-schools security swap.

Commissioners agreed that the city animal shelter is more than an animal shelter that operates only within Memphis. Pets from across the county are taken there and the county animal shelter has a much more limited role.

“It essentially adds up to a rabies control program,” is how Flinn described it.

“We wouldn’t have to be considering about a $5 million increase in our budget,” County Commission Chairman Mike Ritz said. “I think we can get into the animal shelter business quicker than picking up the schools security business. If we can work out something with the city of Memphis about city schools security … then I think we, the community, would be better off.”

Flinn said the cost of each item makes it a wash with a $2.7 million operating cost for the animal shelter and about the same for the part of the city schools resource officers the city of Memphis pays. Some of the cost is also borne by the school system.

“I think we can get into the animal shelter business quicker
than picking up the schools security business.”

–Mike Ritz
Shelby County Commission Chairman

And the division between the two is part of the continuing litigation in state court over money the city claims it is owed by Memphis City Schools.

“We’ve not had any meaningful dialogue with the city on the cost,” said county Chief Administrative Officer Harvey Kennedy who added the county administration is willing to explore the idea. “We’d be growing county government, which is kind of the opposite direction we’ve been trying to go.”

“We’d be growing county government if we had to add extra security,” Commissioner Steve Mulroy countered.

Meanwhile, communications between the administrations of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell are a bit strained over the auto inspections issue.

The council voted last year to end all city funding of auto inspections effective June 30, the end of the current fiscal year, to force the long-running issue of requiring auto inspections for city car owners only.

Luttrell began talking with state officials at the Department of Environment and Conservation, including Commissioner Robert J. Martineau Jr., about the state taking over the inspection process rather than the county doing it.

And what emerged was a state plan to take over inspections, charge city car owners a fee for the inspections and keep inspections a requirement for city car owners only for at least a year, possibly two.

In a March 25 letter to some county commissioners, Wharton said he was “extremely disappointed” in the arrangement.

“Curing this inequity is not complicated,” he wrote, saying commissioners representing districts in Memphis should “stand together and require that county residents pay their fair share.

Kennedy termed the letter “a little pejorative.”

“The city is clearly not happy about this,” he said. “There was no agreement that was reached between the county and the state in this particular regard. We told them where we were. … They are in fact implementing the program.”

Kennedy also said there is no truth to reports that the state would keep the auto inspections a city-only requirement for six years.

“That was never mentioned once. He did not give us a specific time,” Kennedy said of Martineau. “But he did give us reason to believe that some time out in the future they would probably consider expanding the program countywide.”

County Commissioner Sidney Chism said the chain of swaps that are a realignment of which government does what is waiting on the city to act and has been discussed for months.

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