Commission Drops Fire/Ambulance Utility District For Now

By Bill Dries

The idea of a utility district for fire and ambulance services in unincorporated Shelby County and several of the smaller suburban towns and cities was voted down Monday, Aug. 19, by the Shelby County Commission.

All seven Democratic commissioners abstained in the party line vote on the resolution asking the Tennessee legislature to consider giving the county the option to form such a services district. That left the six Republican commissioners one vote short of the seven votes needed for passage and a formal lobbying effort for a bill in Nashville next year.

Commissioner Wyatt Bunker, sponsor of the resolution, said the idea not only faced hesitancy from Democratic commissioners representing Memphis district, it also faced a lot of questions from suburban leaders.

Bunker said the suburban leaders he spoke with had lots of questions about how many appointees they would have to the utility board and whether the utility board or the county government administration would set fire fees for unincorporated Shelby County under the arrangement.

Bunker said he is undecided on whether he will bring the idea back to the commission. If he does, Bunker indicated it will almost certainly be with some major changes in a redraft.

Some Democratic commissioners said they abstained because they had too many questions about it, not because they necessarily oppose it at this juncture.

In other action, the commission approved a new 50-year lease with the Shelby County Health Care Corporation for the operation of The Regional Medical Center. And the commission approved a companion resolution authorizing up to $35 million in new market tax credit-based financing the corporation has worked out to finance renovation work on its facilities.

The commission also approved a $320,000 contract with Manatron Inc. to mail out 2013 Shelby County tax notices by first class mail. Several commissioners questioned whether the tax notices have to be mailed first class as is called for in the contract. Bobby Stevenson of the Trustee’s office cited the U.S. Postal Service’s Domestic Mail Manual. The manual says first class or express mail is required, express mail being more expensive.

The commission delayed action on the first of three readings of an ordinance that would require registration of used tire vendors and haulers in the unincorporated county. Commissioners questioned the purpose of the ordinance proposed by incoming chairman James Harvey since no vendors or haulers are in the unincorporated county.

The Monday session was the last meeting of Mike Ritz’s year long tenure as chairman of the 13-member body.

Monday’s meeting included a closed-door executive session with all of the member of the commission and attorney Lori Patterson, who along with attorney Leo Bearman represents the commission in the federal court lawsuit over the schools merger and the formation of suburban school districts.

Patterson would not comment after the hour-long session. But Friday is the deadline set by U.S. District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays for all sides in the case to submit their positions on what is left for him to decide in the part of the case that deals with the suburban school districts.