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VOL. 130 | NO. 106 | Tuesday, June 2, 2015

County Commission Tax-Rate Debate Picks Up Volume

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Commissioners hit a big political divide Monday, June 1, and as a result will discuss in two weeks that most volatile of political topics – the property tax rate.

Commissioners approved on the first of three readings an ordinance to keep the property tax rate at the current $4.37.

But there is certain to be more debate in committee sessions June 17 about whether that should remain the tax rate for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The commission seemed to have a consensus last month in budget committee for a $4.36 rate, taking a penny off the tax rate which equates to $1.6 million less in revenue.


But that fell apart with budget committee chairwoman Heidi Shafer and commissioner Terry Roland leading the charge Monday for a $4.33 tax rate that is four cents lower than the current rate.

It would amount to a tax refund using the estimated $6 million surplus county government will have at the end of the current fiscal year on June 30.

It also would likely mean denying additional funding sought by the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office as it assumes control of detention services for Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court.

An appeal by the Sheriff’s office and Juvenile Court officials for $2 million in funding is among the elements of the county budget season still in play with Monday’s delay of final votes on the county operation and capital budgets until the June 22 session.

“We should set a tax rate and y’all should have to live in that tax rate,” Roland told Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and county chief administrative officer Harvey Kennedy.

“We’ve given you what we think is a baseline to continue providing services at the same level,” Kennedy said.


Commissioner Walter Bailey called Roland’s proposal “irresponsible.”

“The citizens of the county are not complaining about taxes,” he said. “You’re just being irrational and irresponsible. … All I’ve seen is a lot of rhetoric, political grandstanding.”

Shafer accused Bailey of pandering.

“Always raising taxes since 1972 is a poor political plan,” she said referring to when Bailey was first elected to the commission. “We are driving people out of this county. I live in the real world.”

Some commissioners were in the middle and said they could support a one-cent tax rollback.

But that failed on a 6-7 vote and so did the four-cent rollback by the same tally with the same commissioners on the same sides of the vote.

That flipped on first reading of the stable $4.37 tax rate that was approved.

Meanwhile, a proposal by commissioner Willie Brooks – which would set up a pool of $1.3 million in county funding to be divided among the 13 county commissioners equally at $100,000 each – to make an additional $600,000 in grants to seven nonprofits survived Monday as an amendment.

It includes the possibility of using the grants to pay for road repairs and potholes that Shafer suggested but with a lower overall amount of $975,000.

Brooks adopted the expansion of uses but not the smaller amount.

A vote on the amended main motion was delayed to send the item to committee sessions later this month. A vote by the full commission is scheduled for the meeting in three weeks.

The commission also delayed the appointment of a new judicial commissioner Monday, with many of the 15 applicants for the position in the audience.

Commissioner Melvin Burgess cited the budget items on a busy agenda in the move to delay the appointment.

Judicial commissioners conduct bond and release hearings for prisoners at the Shelby County jail that determine whether a suspect should be held or released pending court appearances.

General Sessions Court Judge Gerald Skahan said the delay is “interfering with the administration of justice” and called on the body to reconsider at the end of its session. No commissioner who voted on the prevailing side would move for reconsideration.

PROPERTY SALES 64 151 1,493
MORTGAGES 45 105 1,152
BUILDING PERMITS 201 410 3,466