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VOL. 130 | NO. 239 | Wednesday, December 9, 2015

County Commission Ends Year With Nonprofit Grants

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Commissioners met for the last time in 2015 Monday, Dec. 7, in an hour-long session void of any arguments about money or attorneys. They focused on a set of grants for local nonprofits instead.

At their last meeting of 2015, Shelby County commissioners ended the year on a quiet note. But lingering controversies over legal counsel and budget surpluses await in the new year.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

But on the other side of the new year, the commission and the administration of Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell will still be looking at a deepening rift between the two political entities.

“I know sometimes we have bumps in the road,” commission chairman Terry Roland said near the end of the session.

The most immediate bump is a dispute over the commission’s attempt to hire its own legal counsel, independent of the Shelby County attorney’s office.

Beyond that is a budget season that will include more discussion of a property tax roll back, fueled by a larger than expected surplus. County Trustee David Lenoir announced the $22 million surplus in August, a month into the fiscal year, after the commission approved a county operating budget based on a $6 million surplus.

Also up for discussion will be the county’s level of funding to Shelby County Schools. County government still is in the three-year window for resetting the state’s basic “maintenance of effort” level of public education funding.

That refers to the minimum amount of funding county government must provide local public schools after a three-year period, adjusting the amount based on the demerger of public education in Shelby County.

But all of that is on the other side of the holidays.

At Monday’s session, commissioner Steve Basar pulled his resolution that would have put on hold the merger of the Community Redevelopment Agency into the Economic Development Growth Engine organization, a move that would require commission and Memphis City Council approval.

The proposal, first announced earlier this year by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, would move the Uptown and Highland Row redevelopment projects – currently overseen by CRA – under EDGE’s control.

Memphis City Council members also have delayed action on the proposal and expressed reservations about it.

The Monday commission agenda was dominated by a set of nine resolutions, the latest grants awarded by commissioners from a $1.3 million fund specifically set aside for the elected officials to allocate.

The body voted in July to include the funding that would be divided equally among the 13 commissioners at $100,000 each.

The full commission has to approve the grants, which may be for organizations in their individual districts or for organizations whose work is undertaken on a broader scale.

The $125,767 in grants approved Monday went to the Memphis Oral School for the Deaf, the Bodine School, the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association, Prestige Fine Arts Academy, Making a Difference Ministries, Madonna Learning Center Inc., Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis, the Hobson-Goodlow Foundation and the House of the Good Shepherd of Memphis.

All are nonprofit charitable organizations.

Most of the grants involved several commissioners chipping in with smaller amounts from their individual reserves.

As has become the practice in other meetings where similar grants were approved by the commission, some commissioners added to the total with amendments during the meeting.

The MIFA grant began as $12,500 from commissioners Mark Billingsley, Walter Bailey and Justin Ford. It grew to $21,500 with amendments from commissioners Willie Brooks, Steve Basar and Van Turner.

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