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VOL. 129 | NO. 48 | Tuesday, March 11, 2014

County Commission Approves Crosstown Funding

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Commissioners approved Monday, March 10, $5 million in county funding for public infrastructure on the $180 million Crosstown redevelopment project.

The 11-1 vote came after it appeared twice that commissioners, including those supporting the funding, were ready to delay the decision for two weeks.

After two hours of debate, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell urged the group to make a decision one way or the other.

“I think we all know how we are going to vote on this,” he said.

Even commissioner Mike Ritz, who was the only “no” vote, said he favored the project but not the additional public funding of it. The city of Memphis approved $15 million in funding for infrastructure in December and the project was granted a 20-year payment in lieu of taxes – or PILOT – by the Downtown Memphis Commission.

Ritz also said two commissioners who work for Methodist Healthcare, which will move some of its operations to the Crosstown building, had a conflict that should have disqualified them from voting.

Commissioners Henri Brooks and Mark Billingsley disclosed their employment with Methodist but also voted on the matter. Shelby County government ethics officer Damon Griffin said in a formal opinion that the employment was not a conflict of interest that should cause either not to vote on the matter and that they do not stand to gain any benefit from voting on the matter.

Commissioner Walter Bailey attempted to amend the 20-year PILOT the project was awarded to a 15-year PILOT. The county attorney’s office ruled the commission has no authority over the tax break approved by the Downtown Memphis Commission and cannot change terms of a PILOT.

Luttrell told commissioners his administration and the commission will be briefed as the county funding is spent, probably near the end of the construction period, to ensure it is spent only on public purposes.

The commission voted down a proposed August countywide referendum ordinance to abolish the Shelby County charter’s residency requirement for government employees as well as teachers in the Shelby County Schools system. The proposal by commissioner Terry Roland advances to third and final reading in two weeks despite the second defeat of the measure in as many commission meetings.

The commission also deferred a $1.4 million contract with Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc. on traffic signaling funded by a federal Congestion Management and Air Quality program grant. The delay was because of questions from commissioner Henri Brooks about the number of minority employees at the Memphis office of Kimley-Horn.

The commission approved a $4.1 million contract with Manatron Inc. of Portage, Michigan for a ”comprehensive property tax payment and collection system” for the Shelby County Trustee’s office.

The contract covers software licenses, installation, conversion, training and maintenance on Aumentum software to be used to bill and collect property taxes and other fees the trustee’s office collects for county government as well as the city of Memphis and other municipalities within Shelby County.

The funding, which is up to the $3.9 million amount as well as a $202,604 contingency, is provided for in the county’s capital and operating budgets. The bulk of it, $3.1 million, is from the capital budget and the remaining $1 million is from the county’s operating budget.

The commission also approved a $1.1 million contract with Standard Construction Co. for asphalt paving and resurfacing projects. The contract is funded with state gasoline tax funds.

Meanwhile the commission delayed for two weeks a resolution that would have urged the administration to delay Shelby County Fire Department promotions in order to open talks about a better promotion system. The union representing county firefighters wants the administration to adhere more closely to the rankings on the promotion list and says fire department leaders are arbitrarily skipping around on the list to make promotions.

The latest round of promotions became official on Feb. 28, prompting commissioner Steve Mulroy to rewrite parts of the resolution to call for talks aimed at some kind of new method going forward. An earlier amendment urging the administration to rescind the most recent promotions was voted down and union leaders indicated they wouldn’t necessarily favor taking back the promotions.

The commission approved Mulroy’s resolution calling for an end to the employee lockout at the Kellogg Memphis Production Facility in south Memphis which is almost five months old.

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