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VOL. 128 | NO. 70 | Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Commission Starts County Budget Season

By Bill Dries

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The Shelby County Commission opens its budget season Wednesday, April 10, starting down a road of pivotal decisions for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Shelby County Commissioners including Chris Thomas, left, and Steve Mulroy, right, open their budget season Wednesday, April 10, with an overview of county finances from Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and his administration.

(Daily News File Photo: Lance Murphey)

The process begins Wednesday with an overview of county finances from Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell.

The fiscal year is a first in several ways.

It is the first fiscal year in which county government will be the sole local revenue source of tax funding for the consolidated Shelby County Schools system.

It is also the first fiscal year in anyone’s memory in which the existing county property tax rate is expected to be adjusted up in order to produce the same amount of revenue the existing tax rate now produces for county government.

Prior to the 2013 reappraisal by the county assessor’s office, past reappraisals had always shown some growth in revenue or virtually no growth, which caused the certified property tax rate to either go down or remain the same.

Shelby County Commission Chairman Mike Ritz is pushing a streamlined schedule for the commission’s budget committee. The budget committee’s chairman is Commissioner Melvin Burgess.

“We are not hearing from everybody this year,” Ritz said at the end of the Monday, April 1, commission meeting.

The commission will hear from the countywide school board in a May 22 budget committee meeting. By then the school system is expected to have a budget proposal ready for formal consideration by the Shelby County Commission.

The school board earlier this year submitted a preliminary and tentative budget estimate requiring $145 million in new county funding. Commissioners were never going to vote at their budget retreat. But most at the retreat indicated the number was unrealistic.

Interim schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson, who became leader of the city and county school systems last month, said he intends to submit a budget that will only require $5 million in new county funding.

The Shelby County Commission on Wednesday will open its budget season for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The commission will deal with a budget that features the county being the sole financer of public schools for the first time.

The $5 million figure is in line with Ritz’s estimate of how much extra funding the commission will be able to provide the school system with a 9.9 percent property tax hike.

A property tax hike of 10 percent or more would require a two-thirds or nine-vote majority on the commission to pass. Anything below 10 percent requires seven votes or a simple majority.

Ritz doesn’t believe there are nine votes on the commission for a tax hike of 10 percent or more. The 9.9 percent tax hike would produce approximately $60 million in revenue including enough to close the gap from the property reappraisal and provide required new funding to Shelby County Juvenile Court under a consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department. That would leave about $5 million in new funding for the consolidated school system in its first fiscal year.

The number could change because of several variables.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced this month additional state funding for the Shelby County Public Defenders office as part of the Juvenile Court reforms.

The defenders office will be taking on representation of indigent juvenile defendants in a year under terms of the agreement.

Ritz’s numbers also include several million for the Shelby County Sheriff’s department to put officers in Memphis schools that now have a Memphis police resource officer. But Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. has said the city has not ruled out possibly continuing the police presence in Memphis schools after the schools merger.

MORTGAGES 80 320 1,066
BUILDING PERMITS 120 590 2,248