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VOL. 129 | NO. 130 | Friday, July 4, 2014

Commission Takes Final Votes on Tax Rates

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Commissioners close out their budget season Monday, July 7, by making a decision on two competing county property tax rate proposals – both lower than the current $4.38 rate.

The commission meets at 1:30 p.m. at the Vasco Smith Administration Building, 160 N. Main St.

Follow the meeting on Twitter at @tdnpols.


Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell is proposing an end to the 4 cents extra on the tax rate paid by property owners who live outside the city of Memphis and then dropping the countywide rate by a penny for all property owners in the county.

The extra 4 cents on the tax rate goes to pay the debt from rural school bonds used to build Arlington High School. The remaining debt on the school would be paid with sales tax revenue from unincorporated Shelby County.


But Commissioners Steve Mulroy and Mike Ritz are proposing to keep in place the 4 cents on the tax rate for those outside Memphis.

They argue there is no urgent need to switch out the method of paying off the specific debt.

Luttrell argues the coming schools demerger with suburban school districts opening in August changes the underlying assumptions for using rural school bonds to build Arlington High School.

If the commission approves the Mulroy-Ritz property tax rate proposal, Mulroy is expected to propose that the county use the $2.8 million in sales tax revenue Luttrell wants to use to pay off the bond debt to instead fund additional prekindergarten classrooms.

Both versions of a property tax rate are on Monday’s agenda for third and final reading. Both were approved on first reading and failed on second reading, but they still advance to third reading under the commission’s rules.

Critical to Monday’s final votes will be whether Commissioner Henri Brooks is allowed to vote.

Ritz has said he doesn’t believe either version will have the votes to pass on third reading without all 13 commissioners present and voting.

The Shelby County Attorney’s office concluded Brooks’ seat is vacant because she doesn’t live in her district. But the commission hasn’t declared the vacancy and Brooks has contested the attempt to declare her seat vacant in Chancery Court.

Chancellor Kenny Armstrong ruled Thursday that the commission can consider Brooks residency and could possibly declare a vacancy but only after making their own determination that she doesn’t live in the district and therefore has violated the county charter.

If the commission simply fills the vacancy without the determination, Armstrong said he would probably rule that they didn’t make the determination and could act to void the commission’s decision.

He also said the commission should not hold a special meeting scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Monday to interview applicants for the vacancy.

The commission will also vote Monday on a $1.8 million facilities study of Shelby County Schools. Commissioners were still discussing the terms of the study last month, specifically who would direct it and whether it would include suburban school districts. But most seemed to agree there should be such a study as the first year of the schools demerger begins in August.

Several of the suburban school systems that debut in August are already making plans for new classrooms to meet overcrowded conditions in some schools.

The commission also votes Monday on a proposal by Commissioner Mark Billingsley to move its twice-monthly meeting time to 3 p.m. from 1:30 p.m. If approved, the new time would take effect with the body’s first meeting in September, which is when commissioners elected in the August county general election begin their four-year terms of office.

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