Shelby County Commissioners approved a $4.38 county property tax rate Monday, July 22, ending a budget season that spilled into the first 22 days of the new fiscal year.
The key to the 7-5 vote on third and final reading of the ordinance was Commissioner Justin Ford changing his “no” vote earlier this month back to a “yes” vote and Commissioner Sidney Chism announcing he would no longer abstain from voting on the matter because of a day care center his family operates.
No further readings are necessary on the tax rate because it is the original rate proposed by Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell. Had the commission amended it, another reading would have been necessary.
The $4.38 property tax rate is a 36-cent increase from the former rate of $4.02. Thirty cents of the rate increase is to generate the same amount of revenue county government got from the old rate of $4.02 taking into account property value lost in the 2013 property reappraisal. The remaining 6 cents is a tax hike to create half of the $20 million in new funding county government is providing to the consolidated school system in the new fiscal year above the past funding county government has provided.
The tax rate in Shelby County outside Memphis remains 4 cents higher because of rural school bonds used to finance construction of Arlington High School.
A tax rate lower than $4.38 would not have meant cuts to the school funding because the commission had already approved an amount for school funding in the county budget and the countywide school board had also signed off on that amount.
Luttrell cited a legal opinion from County Attorney Kelly Rayne saying schools funding could not be cut.
Ford said he changed his vote after listening to constituents, the same reason he gave for voting “no” earlier on the same tax rate.
Chism said the day care center his family operates no longer receives “wrap around” social service through the county and added that he has no direct interest in the business. Chism said that eliminated any potential conflicts of interest he had in voting for the tax rate and he voted yes.
With the $4.38 rate approved, commission Chairman Mike Ritz withdrew his resolution that would have frozen county hiring and grants to nonprofit groups the county makes annually until final approval of a lower tax rate.
Shelby County Trustee David Lenoir said last week his office was waiting on the mailing of tax bills for a new tax rate. Those notices were mailed last year in late July and the trustee’s office collected $32 million in the first three months of the fiscal year although the taxes aren’t due until October and are past due the following February.
Ritz also announced Monday that countywide school board member Reginald Porter has resigned from the school board to become chief of staff for the consolidated school system.
The commission Monday approved a timetable that calls for interviewing applicants for the vacancy during Aug. 14 committee sessions with a vote by the full commission on filling the vacancy at its Aug. 19 meeting.
Porter was elected to a four-year term in 2012 that ends at the end of August 2015.
In other action, the commission approved two contracts totaling $3.1 million for gasoline and diesel fuel for county vehicles from Petroleum Traders Corp.
The body also approved a $2.2 million contract with Global TelLink for an inmate management system at the county jail as well as the county corrections center.
The contract was one of four contracts approved by the commission for such services across the local criminal justice system totaling $7.9 million. The contracts use funding from the budgets for both the former fiscal year and current fiscal year.
Another $4 million contract was approved with Tyler Technologies for a case management system for the Criminal Court clerk and General Sessions Court clerk offices.
A $728,522 contract with New Dawn Technologies is for a case management system for the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office.
And a three-year $963,053 contract is for Software AG to buy, support and maintain Info Hub Architecture Software that is part of an integrated criminal justice information system.