When Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell presented his consolidated county government budget proposal last week to county commissioners, he made an important change that may have upped the amount of new revenue available for the consolidated school district.
His budget includes just more than $4 million in additional funding for the Sheriff’s Department to provide resource officers to replace Memphis Police officers in what are now Memphis schools once the merger begins.
Because Luttrell’s budget proposal is balanced, that means if there is a county property tax hike of 40 cents there is $4 million extra in county funding for schools.
“The mayor’s inclusion of $4 million in the county’s budget gives us essentially about $9 million for the schools if the math we’ve shared stays in place,” said County Commission Chairman Mike Ritz. “I’m pretty confident it will. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some other things happen.”
Ritz said on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines” he remains confident there are the seven votes on the commission needed to pass a 40-cent property tax hike. That includes 33 cents to compensate for the $53 million in revenue the county loses with the 2013 property reappraisal.
Anything more than 40 cents would require a nine-vote, two-thirds majority.
Ritz expects opponents of a property tax hike to ask Luttrell for a budget that cuts the $53 million and keeps the tax rate at $4.02.
Commissioner Terry Roland has been particularly vocal about his opposition to any tax hike including just one to produce the same amount of revenue.
Ritz said because most of the county’s budget is personnel, such a budget would include “a significant cut in the numbers of sheriff’s deputies and jailers and people at the health department.”
Neither Luttrell nor Ritz have really harped on the distinction made in past budget years between a property tax hike and an increase in the recertified property tax rate. The distinction is not expected to be part of the discussion as the commission’s budget committee starts looking at specific line items Wednesday, April 17, starting with the District Attorney General’s office.
“This is the worst year ever for making tough decisions,” Ritz said. “We’ve got to make a lot of tough decisions a lot of people aren’t going to be happy with.”
Commissioner Melvin Burgess, who chairs the budget committee, is also the audit director of Memphis City Schools and a member of schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s transition cabinet.
The schools budget proposal that Burgess is working on with the rest of the cabinet comes to his committee May 22.
Hopson has said he hopes to have a budget proposal ready by the end of April.
He became interim superintendent of both school systems last month with the exit of Shelby County Schools superintendent John Aitken. He has told his cabinet to work on a budget that assumes there will be only $5 million in new county funding for the consolidated school system.
Burgess supports at least that level of funding for schools but away from the commission his job is more than dollars and spreadsheets.
“Right now people are panicking and they are concerned. And there are a lot of things on the street that are just not correct,” Burgess said of parents reacting to word of cuts at the school level. “We had to take some cuts but we are going to make sure every child’s education is what it needs to be.”