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VOL. 131 | NO. 153 | Tuesday, August 2, 2016

County Commission Pursues Budget Loose Ends

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Commissioners moved into the month-old fiscal year Monday, Aug. 1, with a few loose ends and issues from budget season.

Among the contracts approved by commissioners Monday were two road paving contracts totaling $3.5 million.

The items drew attention not for the amounts or roads to be paved but in a change in the wording of where the money comes from.

Past practice had been to calls the funds “special revenue funds.” But by agreement with the administration of Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, the fund, in this case, is called the “roads and bridges fund.”

The change comes after several commissioners questioned the flow of different revenue streams in county government and what happens when a revenue stream going to a certain area produces more revenue than the line item it funds.

Commissioners delayed action Monday on a resolution by commissioner Heidi Shafer that specifically requires all surplus or extra funds for local public education go to the education fund for later use. Surplus general fund revenue would go to the county commission’s contingency fund and all surplus funds that go toward paying down debt would be added to the county’s debt service fund.

Once those three revenue surplus funds were distributed in that way, the commission would approve any appropriation of them.

“It’s so that the money doesn’t just get piddled away,” Shafter said of her reasoning.

The commission delayed a vote on the resolution after county chief administrative officer Harvey Kennedy requested more time for the administration to review the resolution which was added to the commission’s agenda during Monday’s meeting.

Kennedy said the administration wants to make sure the resolution meets “accounting principles.”

“I fully expect them not to be thrilled about it,” Shafer said of the administration as she agreed to the delay.

Commissioners will discuss the resolution in Aug. 10 committee sessions.

In approving a change in county wheel tax revenue to go from the county’s debt service to local education starting this fiscal year, the commission also added an amendment that requires any wheel tax revenue beyond the budgeted amount for local schools must go into an education reserve fund with the commission approving its use.

Some commissioners complained that in the past revenue streams directed toward education have been switched to the county’s debt once education is fully funded for the fiscal year.

The administration countered that it funded line items to the amount approved in the budget by the commission. But some commissioners question whether the excess revenue can be used for items other than education.

The commission approved on the first of three readings Monday, a referendum ordinance by commission chairman Terry Roland that would, if approved by voters, give the commission the final say when a county mayor moves to fire a county attorney. Such a dismissal would require commission approval.

Roland intends to put the charter change on the Nov. 8 ballot countywide.

The commission and Luttrell clashed in late 2015 over the commission’s move to hire its own attorney independent of the county attorney’s office and similar to the attorney used by the Memphis City Council separate of the city attorney’s office.

The administration pointed to the county charter provision that says the county attorney is the only source of legal advice and representation for the commission as well as the administration.

That includes the decision to hire independent legal counsel for specific legal issues but not for ongoing advice and representation.

The commission hired former commissioner Julian Bolton as its attorney using the chairman’s power to appoint special legal counsel and so far, the administration has not challenged the action.

In other action Monday, the commission appointed attorney Shayla Purifoy as the newest Shelby County Judicial Commissioner.

The judicial commissioners work with General Sessions Court to conduct probable cause hearings and determine if those arrested can be released from custody and under what conditions.

Purifoy fills the first of two new positions the commission funded in the new fiscal year. The position pays $93.270 a year.

Purifoy was one of seven attorneys who applied for the appointment. She has been a staff attorney with Memphis Area Legal Services’ domestic violence and family law unit since 2009, shortly after earning her law degree from the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.

Purifoy earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in urban studies at Rhodes College.

Purifoy was among the contenders in June 2015 when the commission appointed attorney Yolanda Kight to another new judicial commissioner position.

It took 12 rounds of voting to fil that position. Purifoy’s appointment Monday came after five rounds of balloting by the county commission.

Roland told the other six applicants for the position that they would have a chance to reapply when the commission moves to fill the other new judicial commissioner’s position as well as a part-time position.

The commission also approved Monday the first two grants of the fiscal year that began July 1 from the commission’s fund of $1.3 million.

The fund is divided equally among the 13 commissioners at $100,000 each with approval of the commission required for any of the grants to local nonprofits. With commission approval, county government’s administration then has a month to develop a grant contract that specifies the conditions of the funding.

The commission approved a $20,500 grant to Crosscheck, a faith-based athletic association that runs youth sports leagues. Crosscheck is a part of Grace Athletic Ministry Enterprises Inc.

The commission also approved a $15,000 grant to Growth International Development Corp. Inc. of Memphis for its “On The Scene” sports tournament. The grant funding specifically goes toward paying the expenses of a 25-player youth basketball team to travel and play in a three-city tournament.

The two grants leave a balance of $1,264,500 in the grants line item.

PROPERTY SALES 40 220 16,417
MORTGAGES 28 85 10,172
BUILDING PERMITS 161 826 39,370
BANKRUPTCIES 29 136 7,733