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VOL. 131 | NO. 131 | Friday, July 1, 2016

Shelby County Budget Shuffle Endures

By Bill Dries

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By the end of Shelby County government’s budget season, a lot of paper was being passed around the County Commission chambers.

Shelby County Commissioners Willie Brooks, left, Melvin Burgess, center, and Reginald Milton, right, caucus during Wednesday’s budget deliberations.

(Daily News/Bill Dries)

It was in keeping with the rules set by chairman Terry Roland going into the Wednesday, June 29, session that stretched on for seven hours: All amendments had to be put in written resolution form.

“Look, we need to get the budget today,” Roland said toward the end.

“I don’t want to do something on the fly, on yellow paper,” commissioner Heidi Shafer replied, a reference to the handwritten lists of budget items that ended the county’s budget season a year ago with huddles and caucuses of two and three commissioners around the chambers.

There was no yellow paper at Wednesday’s meeting, which came just two days before the July 1 opening of the new fiscal year. However, there was the same search for a few hundred thousand dollars and a million or two here and there to fund line items added to the county’s operating budget.

And Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and his administration were again expressing their apprehension about the commission’s methods.

“All we need to do is live within our means,” county chief administrative officer Harvey Kennedy said at one point as commissioners again searched for dollar amounts to shave from various programs to make a new line item for another program.

The commission finally put most of its budget season to rest with $5 million from the county’s reserve fund after commissioners added $13 million in amendments to the $1.1 billion county operating budget.

The combination budget committee session and special voting meeting leaves only a third and final reading of a $4.37 county property tax rate, unchanged from the current rate, set for July 27.

The breakthrough moment of the county’s budget season was the compromise to provide $28.2 million in new funding for Shelby County’s seven public school systems. And it remained a done deal at the outset of the Wednesday session after nearly unraveling earlier in June.

County commissioner Mark Billingsley referred to Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson as a “voice of compromise” in the deliberations. He also praised citizens who came to the budget sessions and were vocal in their calls for more county funding of the school system, especially as an alternative to more county funding for the criminal justice system.

Hopson called the compromise “one of the proudest moments” on his tenure as superintendent.

His approach was to hold firm on what the school system wanted while touting the improved academic results the school system has had, particularly with its Innovation Zone schools. And even as he stuck to his preferences and the dollar gap got shorter, Hopson said he would work in good faith with whatever level of funding he got from the county.

“We made some positive results,” he said Wednesday, “but we know we have a long way to go.”

Once it became apparent that the schools funding compromise was untouchable Wednesday, the day became a victory lap of sorts for the school system. But Hopson and school board members nevertheless stayed in chambers to make sure.

The last piece of $3.5 million in funding was ready at the start of Wednesday’s meeting.

Luttrell and his administration found $1 million in revenue Wednesday from new wheel tax projections and cut the remaining $2.5 million from four other areas of the county budget to fully fund the $24.7 million in new funding specifically for Shelby County Schools.

The school system agreed to come up with another $3.5 million ewarlier in the process.

The $28.2 million in new county funding for local schools will be distributed based on average daily attendance in each school district. By that standard, Shelby County Schools gets 78 percent of the county funding, with the remainder spread among the six suburban school districts.

SCS’ total funding from the county is $419.4 million, or 45 percent of all revenues and funding the school system gets, to make up a total operating budget that is just under $1 billion.

The amendments apart from the schools funding included $3.1 million in new funding for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office to hire more deputies; $800,000 to the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office for employees who are part of cataloguing police body cam and dash cam video; $1 million for county corrections officers, to bring them closer to pay parity with deputy jailers; and $1 million in additional funding for Regional One Health.

The sheriff’s office decreased its funding request from $4.4 million, which was the largest single line item in list of 10 amendments, to $3.1 million. The lower amount remained the largest of the amendments, but it also matched the amount of funding the sheriff’s office estimates it will have left over at the end of its budget year.

The commission action on the lower amount means Sheriff Bill Oldham will use the surplus instead of turning it over for Shelby County government’s general fund.

And with $5 million in funding left to find, the commission went to a county reserve fund that Luttrell’s administration estimates to be at around $105 million.

County finance director Mike Swift urged the commission not to tap the reserve fund, citing the county’s need for cash flow in the reserve fund through December during the wait for property tax revenue to start flowing into county coffers.

PROPERTY SALES 56 289 2,908
MORTGAGES 55 226 2,009
BUILDING PERMITS 108 1,002 6,703
BANKRUPTCIES 42 248 1,225