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VOL. 128 | NO. 245 | Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Commission Rejects School Board Pay Raises, Keeps Other Pay Levels Same

By Bill Dries

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In six hours, Shelby County Commissioners voted down the first of three readings on a proposed $20,000 pay raise for Shelby County Schools board members and kept the pay of the county Mayor, Sheriff, Trustee, Register, County Clerk and Assessor at the same level they are now.

The votes on the non-school board elected officials were on third and final reading and effectively decide issues that have prompted much commission debate in the last two months.

The failure of the school board pay raise on first reading with two more to come, however, ensures the debate will continue into the new year with a different frame of reference.

In the last session of 2013, the commission also approved a $7.1 million settlement of the long-running litigation in Chancery Court by the county over payments in lieu of taxes from Memphis Light Gas and Water Division through the city of Memphis.

The city will pay the county the money to settle the dispute over tax years 2010 and 2011 under terms of the settlement resolution which emerged from one of two closed sessions with attorneys Monday.

The resolution appears to require passage by the Memphis City Council at some point.

After the second closed door session with other attorneys representing the commission in the federal lawsuit over suburban school districts, the commission approved the Germantown schools agreement without debate.

It is the last of the six agreements that effectively ends the county commission’s claim that all six of the municipal school districts violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Comissioners also approved paying an additional $31,390 in legal fees connected to the Memphis Federal Court case.

In other action, the commission set its Jan. 13 meeting as the date it will fill the vacancy on the commission created by the resignation of Wyatt Bunker. Bunker’s resignation is effective Jan. 2 following his election earlier this year as Mayor of Lakeland.

The commission is taking applications for the position representing District 4 which covers portions of all six suburban towns and cities and the bulk of the county’s unincorporated territory outside Memphis.

The commission’s schedule is to interview the applicants during Jan. 8 committee sessions.

Whoever gets the appointment will serve the remaining nine months left in Bunker’s term of office.

Meanwhile, Bunker’s resolution expressing “no confidence” by the commission in Shelby County Elections Administrator Richard Holden was approved by the commission.

Bunker said some local Republicans had urged him privately not to pursue the resolution for the sake of party unity. But Bunker said election problems under Holden’s tenure have been too numerous and sustained not to act in some way.

He cited, in his resolution, state audits critical of local elections in 2012 as well as a Chancery Court decision ordering a new election for a Shelby County Schools board seat that is pending on appeal.

The resolution has no direct effect on Holden’s tenure. He is hired or fired by the five-member Shelby County Election Commission. And two previous attempts by the Democratic minority on the body to remove Holden have been defeated in 2-3 party-line votes.

The commission also accepted a $982,485 state transportation grant for construction and engineering of the replacement of the Ward Road Bridge over Big Creek in north Shelby County. The acceptance includes a $1.3 million sub contract with Dement Construction Co. LLC. In addition to the state grant, the funding of the project includes another $407,160 in state gas tax funds for the project.

Commissioners sent back to committee a proposal from Memphis City Council member Lee Harris targeting “tax dead” properties for tax breaks and redevelopment incentives. Commissioner Mike Ritz proposed several amendments after he said the original provisions might have been open to some abuse by developers or might have encouraged property owners to not pay property taxes.

If approved by the commission and the council, the proposal’s next stop would be the Tennessee Attorney General’s office for a legal opinion. If the opinion upholds the legality of the program it would still have to then go back to the council and commission for approval in its final form.

With no debate, the commission rejected a joint resolution from the city council that called for the formation of a joint city-county committee to study expansion of the Memphis Cook Convention Center.

And commissioners approved $516,455 worth of replacement vehicles for the fleet of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department from three dealers: Dobbs Ford, Serra Chevrolet and Sam Swope Automotive. Of the total, $516,455 comes from Sheriff’s department drug funds and the remaining $134,904 is from the Sheriff’s Department general fund budget.

PROPERTY SALES 40 220 16,417
MORTGAGES 28 85 10,172
BUILDING PERMITS 161 826 39,370
BANKRUPTCIES 29 136 7,733