VOL. 131 | NO. 151 | Friday, July 29, 2016
Commission Sets Tax Rate, Debate Remains
By Bill Dries
Shelby County Commissioners made it official Wednesday, July 27, keeping the county property tax rate the same – at $4.37 per $100 of assessed value.
But the vote didn’t end the debate among commissioners about the future trajectory of the tax rate.
“I still believe we must absolutely move in the direction of a tax cut,” commissioner Heidi Shafer said before the commission vote at Wednesday’s special commission meeting.
Shafer abstained, along with commissioner Melvin Burgess, in the 9-1 commission vote.
Commissioner David Reaves agreed with the goal of a property tax rollback.
“But I know there’s not the votes to do that,” he said.
Commissioner Walter Bailey, the only no vote, went the other direction. He advocated for an increase in the tax rate, but never formally proposed a tax hike.
“We have enormous problems in the city – which is where most of the taxpayers are,” Bailey said. “There is nothing different about this budget even though we’ve got different challenges. … This budget is inadequate. … It seems as if we are asleep.”
Commission chairman Terry Roland voted for the stable tax rate, but is among those who favor a drop in the tax rate.
Roland said it’s a more politically realistic possibility next spring.
“It’s a reappraisal year. We’ll be flush with cash,” Roland said referring to the once-every-four years reappraisal of property countywide for tax purposes. “When you do that then you can rollback your property taxes and make us more competitive.”
The reappraisal leads to a resetting of the property tax rate to reflect what is expected to be an increase in property values. That increase in values would theoretically lead to a lower tax rate to produce the same amount of tax revenue – state law forbids a windfall for county government as a result of the reappraisal.
A tax cut beyond a resetting of the rate to produce the same amount of revenue would be a separate question and vote for the commission.
While no commissioners favoring a stable tax rate were part of this week’s commission debate, there are commissioners who feel the county tax rate should remain where it is.
Roland is among those who argue the rate is too high to the point of deterring economic growth.
“My job is to make sure we keep people in Shelby County paying taxes,” Roland said. “We’re on the uptick now and going down on property taxes is going to be significant in keeping people here in Shelby County.”
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell has said he wants to keep the county tax rate as low as possible. But he has disagreed with the idea that the tax rate is what is causing the county’s population loss. Luttrell has said it is quality-of-life issues.
Commissioner Eddie Jones considered an amendment to the tax rate Wednesday that would have taken the ordinance back to second reading and required another final vote.
Jones may still propose a resolution specifying that any excess revenue streams for local public education beyond the revenue budgeted for those streams remain in a reserve fund for education controlled by the commission.
The county administration said that is effectively what will happen anyway.