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VOL. 131 | NO. 130 | Thursday, June 30, 2016

County Budget Done – Mostly

By Bill Dries

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County Finance Director Mike Swift, left, confers with County Commissioners David Reaves, center, and Reginald Milton, right, during a break in Wednesday's budget deliberations.

Shelby County commissioners put most of their budget season to rest Wednesday, June 29, with $5 million from the county’s reserve fund after they added $13 million in amendments to the $1.1 billion county operating budget during a seven-hour session.

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

The new fiscal year begins Friday.

All of the amendments were to fund areas other than local schools.

The $28.2 million in new county funding for the county’s seven public school systems was a done deal at the outset of the Wednesday session.

That’s when the administration of Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell found $1 million in revenue 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 earlier in the process.

The $28.2 million in total county funding for local schools is distributed based on average daily attendance in each school district. By that standard, SCS gets 78 percent of the county funding

The total schools funding from the county is $491.4 million or 45 percent of all revenues and funding SCS gets to make up a total operating budget that is just under $1 billion.

The amendments included $3.1 million in new funding for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office to hire more deputies, $800,000 to the Shelby 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.

All of those requests took a back seat in the county’s budget season to the push by Shelby County Schools for new county funding after several years of budget cuts in the demerger of local public education.

Commissioners found funding for some of the other budget additions from other sources of revenue. In other cases they reduced the amount requested by the agencies.

Not all of those proposals had the votes to pass.

Commissioner Steve Basar’s proposal to tap the county’s pay as you go fund for capital construction projects to the tune of $6.7 million appeared to be gathering support at one point.

The administration pointed out that replacing the pay as you go fund with bond debt would mean adjusting the part of the county property tax rate that goes to the county’s debt service.

When the commission voted, Basar was the only yes vote against 10 no votes.

Commissioner David Reaves got three other yes votes for a failed plan to carve $175,000 out of the county’s blight program to fund some but not all of the new dollar figures sought by General Sessions Veterans Court, Environmental Court and the Shelby County Election Commission.

The Sheriff’s Department dropped its funding request from $4.4 million, which was the largest single line item in list of 10 amendments Wednesday totaling $13 million.

The lower $3.1 million amount remained the largest of the 10 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 estimated to be at around $105 million by the administration.

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.

Commission chairman Terry Roland said several times during the long committee session into special meeting Wednesday that the funding for the various items could change during the new fiscal year with budget amendments even as soon as the July 27 final vote on the county property tax rate.

But while the source of funding might change, the commission debate and votes Wednesday signified the line items are likely set in stone.

Nevertheless, the final tax rate vote could include proposals to raise the rate as well as roll back the rate.

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