VOL. 131 | NO. 154 | Wednesday, August 3, 2016
County Commission Ties Up Budget Loose Ends
By Bill Dries
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 call 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,” Shafer 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 to where county wheel tax revenue goes – from the county’s debt service to local education starting this fiscal year – the commission 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. But some commissioners question whether the excess revenue can be used for items other than education.
Also Monday, the commission approved on the first of three readings 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, something the Memphis City Council previously had approved for a situation in city government.
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.