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VOL. 129 | NO. 8 | Monday, January 13, 2014

County Commission Expected to Fill Vacancy

By Bill Dries

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The Shelby County Commission starts with a dozen members at the first meeting of 2014. But it should be back up to the full 13 members by the end of the Monday, Jan. 13, session.

Shelby County Commissioners meet Monday for the first time in 2014, and on the agenda is the appointment of a new commissioner.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

The commission meets at 1:30 p.m. at the Vasco Smith County Administration Building. Follow the meeting @tdnpols, www.twitter.com/tdnpols.

Commissioners will vote on filling the vacancy created by the resignation this month of Wyatt Bunker, who left the commission following his election last year as mayor of Lakeland.

A total of 15 citizens applied for the vacancy. But by committee session interviews last week, former interim County Commissioner Matt Kuhn and attorney Van Turner had withdrawn from consideration.

The commission is currently 13 members divided among one single-member district and four districts, each represented by three elected commissioners.

The contenders for the appointment include former Shelby County Schools board member Diane George and former Germantown Aldermen Frank Uhlhorn and Mark Billingsley.

Collierville banker George Chism, retired Memphis Police officer Ron Fittes, Memphis firefighter Dennis Daugherty and FedEx solutions adviser Jackie Johnson along with Billingsley are candidates for the commission in the 2014 elections. Fittes, Jackson and Billingsley are running in the new District 4. Chism is a candidate in the new District 2. Daugherty is a candidate in the new District 1.

Also seeking the appointment are retired Sheriff’s Deputy Bennie Cobb, Kevin Hardin of Orion Federal Credit Union, architect Rob Johnson, sales executive Robert Escue, tax consultant Leon Hurd Jr. and retired accountant and former Lakeland commissioner John Wilkerson.

Based on past appointments, a maximum of four or five of those who applied are likely to be nominated by commissioners in the appointment process.

Whoever gets seven votes gets the appointment and will serve the nine months left in Bunker’s term of office.

Also on Monday’s agenda is a five-year pilot program aimed at “tax dead” properties – blighted property in which the owner owes more in overdue taxes and negligence fees than the property could ever be sold for or is valued at.

The proposal, which the Memphis City Council would consider if the commission approves it, would allow an appointed board to approve a loan for the amount of the back taxes and fees to a developer or community development corporation. It could also grant an additional five years worth of property taxes due on the property.

The county would fund $200,000 for the loan fund in the first year of the program and another $100,000 for the first year of the grants on future property taxes.

The resolution, by Commissioner Steve Mulroy, doesn’t create the program. It sends the proposal to the Tennessee Attorney General’s office for a review that is part of the state enabling legislation that allows local governments to create anti-blight programs.

Assistant County Attorney Danny Presley told commissioners in committee sessions that the Attorney General’s criteria includes two hurdles that will probably be central to whether the program can move ahead. It cannot be arbitrary and capricious by legal standards in its application or on its face and it cannot violate the provision in the Tennessee Constitution requiring uniform and equal taxation.

The second provision calls into question whether a loan for the amount owed in back taxes is waiving or forgiving property taxes and whether the grant does the same.

“There is no legal authority to waive or forgive property taxes,” Presley said.

Only one other local government has an anti-blight program under the enabling legislation and Presley said the Davidson County program is “not really comparable to what’s being proposed here.”

It is a reimbursement program for the expenses of developers in renovating the exteriors of commercial properties only.

“I would say this is a case of first impression as far as I can tell,” Presley said. “There are no court cases on it.”

Commissioners will also consider a resolution from Commissioner Steve Basar that urges the Tennessee Building Commission to reject the application by the city of Memphis for a Tourism Development Zone. The zone would allow the city to collect incremental sales tax revenues generated within its boundaries and apply them toward a plan to redevelop the Mid-South Fairgrounds.

Basar is concerned the sales tax revenue dedicated to that purpose in the zone would include sales tax revenue that would otherwise go toward education funding.

The administration of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. contends it would not take revenue that otherwise goes to schools. But county attorneys and finance officials have said it could.

The Building Commission’s executive committee could consider the city’s TDZ application at its Jan. 21 meeting in Nashville.

The County Commission has already approved another resolution by Commissioner Mike Ritz supporting a state law to explicitly forbid such zones from capturing that share of sales tax revenue that would otherwise go to public education.

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RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 79 146 10,368
MORTGAGES 95 202 13,529
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 19 43 2,687
BUILDING PERMITS 0 393 24,700
BANKRUPTCIES 62 122 10,014
BUSINESS LICENSES 21 37 3,773
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 99 248 14,805
MARRIAGE LICENSES 27 58 3,225

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