County Weighs Balanced Budget Proposal

By Bill Dries

The budget season is under way in Shelby County government, but there will be few signs of it Monday, April 23, as the County Commission meets.

The commission meeting at the Vasco Smith County Administration Building begins at 1:30 p.m. The short agenda featuring several appointments and the sale of some tax delinquent parcels is the ideal lead-in to what is normally the most complicated time of the year for the commission.

The day after Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. took a 47-cent city property tax hike proposal to the Memphis City Council, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell last week delivered a balanced consolidated Shelby County government budget with no tax hike proposal. The budget plan includes a 1 percent pay raise for county employees, no use of reserves and no layoffs of employees.

Luttrell’s presentation to the Shelby County Commission in committee sessions begins the process of budget committee hearings.


And there are connections to what is happening at City Hall. Generally, the two mayors try to avoid each requesting a property tax hike in the same budget year.

Beyond that, the city and county administrations have some different thoughts about how to use their shares of the money from the recent sale of the old Defense Depot property in South Memphis.

Luttrell has pledged the county’s $7.5 million share to EDGE – Economic Development Growth Engine – the new city-county organization to promote economic development and combine some of the boards that approve tax and other incentives under one umbrella organization.

The budget includes no funding for the Greater Memphis Chamber in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Wharton has estimated the city’s part of the proceeds is closer to $9 million and he has said the city might consider using that one-time money to take approximately 10 cents off the 47-cent tax hike request.

Luttrell said he was “disappointed” that the two administrations could not agree on committing all of the funding to EDGE. But he says he and Wharton are still talking about a memorandum of understanding to fully fund EDGE.

There is no capital or construction spending in the budget proposal for either of the county’s public school systems, which Luttrell said reflects the challenge to come beyond the next fiscal year in funding the consolidated public school system.

“We want to wait and see how the transition takes place before we commit any funds in that area,” Luttrell said of the capital spending freeze.

“As far as the cost of education going forward after the city stops their payment, we don’t know,” he added. “We don’t know if we’re going to be able to come in and provide the type of budget that shows no increases. I would say that I’m not prepared at this time to just automatically assume that there’s going to be a significant increase in education.”

If the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department puts an officer in every city and county school that now has either a sheriff’s deputy or a Memphis Police officer, Luttrell said that could be “a very expensive proposition.”

He and Shelby County Trustee David Lenoir also noted that 2013 is a reappraisal year for Shelby County property owners that could affect revenue projections beyond the fiscal year being planned for.

“We expect a reduction in revenue with the next reappraisal,” Luttrell said.

Lenoir said tax collections from July 2011 to the end of March 2012 are roughly where they were over the same period in the previous fiscal year.

“Given the economy, we’re relatively pleased with the way the money has come in,” he said.

Luttrell also touted the continued plan to pay down the county’s debt estimating county government has paid $400,000 on the debt in the last four and a half years bringing the total to just under $1.5 billion.