Council Ups Ante in Auto Inspections Standoff

By Bill Dries

City funding of auto emissions inspections is still due to run out on June 30, the end of the current fiscal year at City Hall.


And Memphis City Council members are considering several options, including simply ending the inspections. The possible move comes after Shelby County government leaders announced last month the state has told them the state won’t assume responsibility for the auto inspections for at least a year, probably two. Until then, the auto inspections would apply only to Memphis vehicle owners and not those across the entire county.

Shelby County Chief Administrative Officer Harvey Kennedy said last month it wasn’t a deal between the county and the state. It was officials with the state Department of Environment and Conservation announcing the state’s decision.

But this week, council members expressed anger at Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell over the decision.

“We ought to be fired if we go back to our districts and tell the people that we allowed Mayor Luttrell and the state of Tennessee and all of these other deal cutters to hold Memphis hostage for another two years,” said council member Harold Collins. “We should be fired if we agree with this.”

Council member Lee Harris said he is exploring some kind of environmental fee that might apply to all in Shelby County or only to those car owners outside Memphis.

“I don’t want to be imprudent. But I also don’t want to be a punk,” Harris said, adding he will consult with council attorney Allan Wade. “My gut is I would like to do something as soon as possible.”

The other possibility he is exploring is a council decision to just end auto emissions inspections immediately. Council member Shea Flinn counseled against that, saying it could cost the entire county in economic development efforts.

“That is a very bad way to do it,” Flinn said, citing federal air quality standards. “If it happens that way then you make up for the lack of automotive inspections. It goes to stationary sources, which is businesses.”

And he said an environmental fee would likely be challenged in court.

Flinn has met with Shelby County Commissioners on the issue several times to talk about a two-year transition period that so far most of the commission have expressed little if any interest in.

“If the County Commission would do the right thing, the highest probability of the greatest success for the citizens of Memphis is for the County Commission to assume the financial liability, contract with the city to continue providing it just the same way we are now for a two-year period,” he said.

If that doesn’t happen, the political standoff could intensify. It was a year ago this month that the council voted to end all funding for auto emissions inspections after June 30. The level of anger among council members this week indicated the votes aren’t there to reverse the decision.

“I think we need to strike as soon as possible,” Harris said, which could mean some kind of proposal or further council discussion at the April 16 council session.

“At the very least we need to put a lot of pressure on those county officials including Mayor Luttrell that just will not support a measure of fairness,” he added. “If we’re challenged in court, so be it.”