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VOL. 129 | NO. 131 | Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Commission To Hold Brooks Hearing, Sets Standardized Property Tax Rate

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Commissioners agreed Monday, to make their own determination about the residency of commissioner Henri Brooks probably toward the end of July in a proceeding that one commissioner described as a “question and answer session.”

With that determination, the commission would then vote on whether to declare her seat vacant and if so, to appoint a replacement to serve the remainder of Brooks’ term of office which runs out at the end of August.

Commission chairman James Harvey will set a date for the special meeting after conferring with attorneys on all sides of the complex and unprecedented political and legal question.

Meanwhile, attorney Andre Wharton, representing Brooks, said he and co counsel Michael Working will participate in the meeting and hearing but are not conceding that they accept it as valid for purposes of the Chancery Court litigation over the attempt to declare Brooks’ seat vacant.

In the court case, Chancellor Kenny Armstrong ruled last week that the commission could not declare Brooks’ seat vacant and appoint a replacement until it made a determination that she did not live in the district she represents and had thus violated terms of the county charter.

Armstrong also said that an investigation by County Attorney Marcy Ingram declaring that Brooks no longer lives at an address in Midtown that she has given for several years as her address and therefore has violated the residency standard is not a determination the commission can act on for purposes of declaring a vacancy.

At Monday’s commission session, Ingram ruled that Brooks could not vote on the items related to the questions about her residency.

Before approving the question and answer session some time later this month, the commission voted down a proposal by commissioner Mike Ritz to refer the residency matter to the District Attorney General’s office.

In other action, the commission approved a $4.37 Shelby County property tax rate for the fiscal year that began July 1. The rate is one cent lower than the $4.38 rate the commission approved a year ago this month for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

The tax rate also removes the four cents extra on the tax rate for residents of Shelby County outside Memphis used to pay off rural school bonds that financed construction of Arlington High School. The remainder of the debt will be paid with sales tax revenue from unincorporated Shelby County.

The tax rate is the one proposed by Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell. The commission voted down an alternate tax rate that kept the four cents extra on the tax rate outside Memphis and would have used the sales tax revenue to fund prekindergarten classrooms.

The action on the dueling tax rates closes county government’s budget season.

Commissioner Steve Mulroy pursued a resolution later to secure county funding for prekindergarten using surplus funds from the just-ended fiscal year and the first $3 million of any surplus funding at the end of the current fiscal year.

The commission voted down the attempt.

Luttrell said he opposed the attempt as too uncertain and possibly unsustainable without better planning. He wants to use a nonprofit firm to manage the prekindergarten funding.

Mulroy favored bypassing such a firm and sending the funding directly to Shelby County Schools for use.

Commissioners approved a resolution by commissioner Mark Billingsley that moves the commission’s twice monthly meeting time from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. starting with the first commission meeting in September, which is also when the four-year term of office begins for commissioners elected in the Aug. 7 county general election.

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