The city of Memphis has a contract with the state of Tennessee and the Environmental Protection Agency to perform auto emissions testing through the next fiscal year, according to Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell.
City funding for auto inspection stations including this one would run out as of June 30, the end of the current fiscal year. But Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell says the city of Memphis has a contract with the state to do the emissions testing and that the contract runs for another fiscal year.
(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)
But county government is ultimately responsible, through the Shelby County Health Department, for overall air quality.
“First and foremost the city has a contractual obligation to continue in that area for at least another year,” Luttrell said on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines” in an episode that airs Friday, June 7, at 7 p.m.
Luttrell was reacting in advance of Tuesday’s council vote on an ordinance that would exempt Memphis vehicle owners from having their cars inspected. The council was to vote on the proposal by council member Lee Harris Tuesday on the first of three readings.
Last week, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. told council members that Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s chief of staff had told him and Luttrell that Haslam would not allow the state to take over the inspections and would not offer any assistance in what amounts to a political standoff.
“I’m hoping that the city will meet their contractual obligation, some way, somehow,” Luttrell said. “We’re going to continue to look for ways that we can compensate and help the city if they withdraw from emissions testing. The county will not assume responsibility for emissions testing.”
And Luttrell emphasized that county government will not pay the city to continue emissions testing until new federal air quality standards come into play in 2014.
“We just don’t have it in our budget,” he said of what is a $2 million line item in the city budget. “We have asked about as much from our citizens as far as a tax increase for Shelby County that we can do. I emphasize that the city has a contract. They need to honor the contract they are under.”
The health department obligations on behalf of county government are the result of another move by the council several years ago that ended city funding of what had been a department under the umbrella of county government but jointly funded by city and county governments. The council cut funding to the health department after vocal complaints that no other municipality in the county contributed to the funding.
Luttrell said the health department’s role in a scenario where the city ends funding for the testing as well as the testing itself could be in finding alternatives to the testing that are acceptable to federal environmental regulators.
“The city has got to decide how they are going to move forward on this,” he added. “Some in the city say that it’s an equity issue. I think it’s more of a financial issue than an equity issue. They have done the inspections for 25 years. Equity has never been a concern until this year.”