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VOL. 128 | NO. 99 | Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Commission Approves Certified Tax Rate As Prelude To Tax Debate

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Commissioners established a certified county property tax rate of $4.32 Monday, May 20, after much debate about what the calculation means in a reappraisal year where reappraisal values went down instead of up or staying roughly even.

The resolution is a statement that the $4.32 rate is what it will take to generate the same amount of revenue the current property tax rate of $4.02 generates for Shelby County government.

But the commission’s debate over the action and the 8-3 vote is an indication of the discussion to come once the commission moves to set the Shelby County property tax rate.

The recertified rate is simply a statement of what tax rate produces the same amount of revenue total for the county, Assistant County Chief Administrative Officer Kim Hackney said as commissioners quizzed her on the intent of the state law that requires such a resolution.

The state law was passed with the intent of preventing local governments from keeping the property tax rate the same and generating a windfall in revenue because of what is normally some kind of growth in property values in the reappraisal process.

But the 2013 reappraisal in Shelby County is the first in anyone’s memory in which the revenue amount has dropped.

Commissioner Wyatt Bunker questioned whether the intent of state law was for there to be a recertified rate in such an instance.

Shelby County Attorney Kelly Rayne said the state law includes no limitations based on whether a tax rate produces more or less revenue for a local government.

Commissioner Terry Roland called it “lawyer talk” and said the recertified rate is a way to automatically start with what he considers a tax hike and not an increase in the tax rate.

Last week, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell revised the appeals allowance downward making the estimate for the recertified rate 30-cents more on the $4.02 rate instead of the previous estimate of 33-cents.

Luttrell proposed a six-cent tax hike on top of that for the consolidated school district.

Commissioner Sidney Chism accused some on the body of trying to use the calculation to defeat the extra funding for the school system.

The commission votes on the second and third readings of a county property tax rate next month and Hackney said the commission’s deliberations on that will start with the existing tax rate of $4.02.

Meanwhile, the commission approved Monday a capital improvements plan budget of $29.9 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The biggest part of that amount -- $13.6 million is pay as you go projects funded from county savings with another $10 million in CIP funding from the federal government.

The largest amount of the spending for the next fiscal year -- $12.5 million – will be for roads and bridges with another $7.7 million for information technology.

The CIP budget is a five-year plan with the four out years being a plan that could change as the future fiscal years approach. The five-year budget approved Monday is $82.7 million.

In other action, the commission approved a five-year $1.7 million contract with American Medical Response of Tennessee Inc. for emergency ambulance service in Shelby County outside Memphis. AMR won the contract in a proposal that the county administration judged better than Rural Metro which has had the contract for the last six years.

But Rural Metro executives contested the process used for the contract prompting a lengthy question and answer session with commissioners going over the details of the offers with leaders of both companies.

The commission also voted down a resolution that would have repealed the “living wage” ordinance following passage of a state law earlier this year that bars local governments from setting such standards.

And the commission repealed an earlier ordinance that required contractors with county government to pay a certain amount of fringe or health benefits to those they employ on county jobs.

And the commission approved paying $152,255 in legal fees from its contingency fund to pay fees for the commission’s role in the ongoing federal court lawsuit over schools consolidation and municipal school districts.

Commission chairman Mike Ritz also announced Monday that he and leaders of the six suburban towns and cities are trying to find times to meet and discuss the formation of the suburban school districts.

Private talks late last year into the new year failed to produce an agreement on terms for establishing such school districts.

PROPERTY SALES 51 180 16,377
MORTGAGES 21 57 10,144
BUILDING PERMITS 103 665 39,209
BANKRUPTCIES 31 107 7,704