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VOL. 130 | NO. 190 | Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Shelby County Commission Agrees to Budget Summit

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County commissioners will meet with Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell in October to hold a budget summit.


But before then, the commission will meet with an accounting firm Oct. 9 to go over some budget basics leading into the discussion with Luttrell about county budget priorities.

“I want everybody to understand what’s going on,” said commission chairman Terry Roland. “It may not be advantageous to the administration. But it would be advantageous to us. This is about this body being the best it can be.”

The pre-summit gathering is one of several indications that the commission is charting a more independent course.

Roland, who became chairman earlier this month for a one-year term, has been the legislative body’s most vocal about the need for it to have more information on budget decisions. And that information should come from sources that aren’t tied to Luttrell’s administration, he says.

The current commission just completed the first year of its four-year term. Its questioning of administration numbers isn’t unique.

Memphis City Council members in the last year hired outside actuary consultants to review Memphis Mayor A C Wharton’s numbers on the city’s health insurance and pension liabilities.

On the county side, Roland and commissioners Heidi Shafer and Mark Billingsley pushed for a roll back in the county’s property tax rate in the budget season that ended this spring.

In that discussion the issue was how to best use a $6 million budget surplus. After the county budget was set along with a stable county tax rate, Trustee David Lenoir said the county did $22 million better than expected in its revenue collections.

Luttrell argues the revenue isn’t just extra that can be used for any purpose should go into specific county funds.

Roland’s reaction was to call for outside information and advice.

The pre-summit gathering will be with local accounting firm Jones and Tuggle PLLC.

Luttrell called for the summit in August as he acknowledged the $22 million in extra revenue collections calls for a different outlook on what the county can fund.

Luttrell also has urged the commission to remain conservative, especially on the possibility of property tax rollbacks or even a phase out of the county’s wheel tax, which Lenoir has said is another possibility.

Meanwhile, Roland is organizing a joint meeting with city council members about EDGE – the city-county Economic Development Growth Engine.

“A lot of people aren’t happy with EDGE,” said Roland. He has recently cited that the council and commission could mothball EDGE, which grants tax breaks for economic development, with 30-days notice.

The issue for Roland is that EDGE president Reid Dulberger reports to the city and county mayors who appoint him and not the local legislative bodies. Dulberger has briefed both bodies numerous times on what the agency is doing and what its plans are.

City council members balked earlier this month at a move to bring the Community Redevelopment Agency, which controls the trust funds for the Uptown and Highland Row developments, under the EDGE board. The CRA is now part of the city-county Office of Planning and Development.

But commissioner Heidi Shafer questioned which city council the commission should meet with – the group currently in office until the end of the year or the new council to be elected Oct. 8. At least six new members will take office in January.

Roland said he would work on details and report back to the body on that and other questions.

In other action Monday, commissioners approved a resolution that opposes the administration’s plans to close county Firehouse 60 on Egypt-Central Road.

Millington firefighters who man the station are set to leave next month as Millington ends an existing agreement with the Shelby County Fire Department. County officials have said they can keep the fire station open into November as they search for other options.

Residents in unincorporated Shelby County pay a fire fee that funds county fire services. The firehouse previously had been closed but was reopened as fire services were reconfigured.

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