VOL. 125 | NO. 230 | Friday, November 26, 2010
Luttrell Sets Priorities as Budget Season Approaches
By Bill Dries
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell has been content in his first three months in office to leave a lot of the out-of-town traveling to Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.
That will change as Luttrell continues to shape county government with new appointments and sets new financial priorities going into the spring budget season.
“County government should not be an urban government,” he said. “It should not be providing urban services.”
Luttrell made the comment in an interview for the WKNO TV program “Behind The Headlines” to air Friday at 6:30 p.m.
That stance would be a reversal of a long-standing trend since county government was restructured in the mid-1970s creating the modern Shelby County Commission and the office of mayor.
Luttrell also told Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, and a panel of reporters that he and Wharton have restarted talks on a merger of the Memphis and Shelby County fire departments.
Wharton endorsed a merger as Shelby County mayor and later in his current role as Memphis mayor. But outgoing Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton and then interim Shelby County Mayor Joe Ford opposed it.
Luttrell said the issue is complicated by fire fee agreements. He didn’t indicate his position on the issue, only that he and Wharton are discussing it.
He also said a merger of Memphis and Shelby County 9-1-1 services will probably happen and for the time being at least leave out the six suburban municipalities from a combined call center.
“They raise some valid questions,” Luttrell said of points raised by the mayors of the six suburban towns and cities.
He also called the broader merger of 9-1-1 “a tough nut to crack.”
Luttrell and Wharton are also trying to bring the suburban mayors into a new approach to economic development efforts.
One goal is to repair a rift that has prompted the suburban mayors to form their own chambers of commerce alliance.
The county’s debt stands at $1.6 billion. The county’s financial health is “not in an emergency,” Luttrell said as he outlined a goal of accelerating payments on the debt.
To keep the debt from growing, Luttrell said he wants to see a “rest period” on school construction in both the Memphis city and Shelby County school systems. School construction in both school systems funded by county bonds has been the major contributor to the county’s debt.