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VOL. 124 | NO. 117 | Wednesday, June 17, 2009

MSARC Now Firmly in County’s Palm

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Commissioners talked over the finances of moving the Memphis Sexual Assault Resource Center into county government this week. But the 13-member body was anxious to avoid discussions about anything else surrounding the politically volatile agency.

“I hope we can keep this thing to a minimum and get it out of the headlines,” said Commissioner George Flinn at the outset of Monday’s discussion and unanimous vote by the commission.

The 13-0 vote made formal the move of MSARC to the local Health Department.

Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton and Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr. announced the move June 8, less than a week after Herenton vowed MSARC would remain a city agency as long as he was mayor. Along with the vow, Herenton also criticized the then-still forming move to make MSARC a county government agency.

Change of conversation

Commissioner Mike Carpenter originally proposed the move to county government but delayed the resolution as Herenton and the City Council debated its merits. He wrote a letter to Herenton that Herenton did not answer.

Herenton promptly changed the subject days after his reversal when he filed with the Federal Election Commission to run in the 2010 Democratic congressional primary.

County government is working toward taking over MSARC on July 1.

For the first three months, Wharton said the center should operate just as it does now. During that time, Health Department director Yvonne Madlock will be working on a long-term plan that might involve long-term changes. Those could include locating MSARC with other agencies and possibly moving out of its leased space on Union Avenue Extended.

County Chief Administrative Officer Jim Huntzicker said the administration will present a budget amendment for long-term funding of MSARC that could be around $275,000.

The funding request will follow an audit of MSARC finances that is part of the transfer of control. The audit will include a review of state and federal grant agreements that fund the examination of rape victims by forensic nurses.

Other business

The commission also approved on the first of three readings a county property tax rate of $4.02 for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The 8-5 vote followed the defeat of an amendment by commissioner Wyatt Bunker to set the tax rate at $4 per $100 of assessed value. That is the rate state officials have calculated would produce the same amount of revenue county government now gets from the current $4.04 rate.

Commissioner Steve Mulroy argued that the $4.02 rate isn’t a tax increase.

“By that definition, every time that you have more efficient (tax) collections, that’s a tax increase,” he argued. “We actually lowered this rate. So, that is not by my definition, or any reasonable definition, a tax increase.”

Bunker was among those who disagreed, saying advocates of the rate were “nickel and diming” taxpayers.

“Let’s not get caught in that same old tired message of this is only $10 (more) a year,” he said. “That’s how our budgets get bloated. That’s how we fund things that are inappropriate. That’s how we fail to set good budget priorities. That’s how our tax rate gets to be the highest in the state of Tennessee.”

Huntzicker said a $4 rate would leave the county operating budget unbalanced.

The $4 tax rate amendment failed on a 5-7 vote.

The commission also approved a planned development on the northwest corner of Houston Levee and Walnut Grove roads. The Canale Grove development would be a mixed-use plan of office and retail and would include residential lofts as well as a senior living facility.

The commission voted down on a 5-6 vote a resolution that would have given the city of Memphis the county’s share of Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium and the Mid-South Coliseum. Commissioner Mike Ritz offered the proposal.

And the commission approved on third and final reading a new prevailing wage ordinance on an 8-4 vote. The ordinance sets penalties for major contractors and subcontractors working on county construction projects who do not meet the wage and benefit standards.

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