VOL. 131 | NO. 103 | Tuesday, May 24, 2016
County Commission Delays School Funding Redirect, Southbrook Mall Funding
By Bill Dries
Shelby County Commissioners held up $2.8 million in redirected Shelby County Schools funding Monday, May 23, as the commission and school system leaders prepare for a Wednesday meeting on the school system budget for the coming fiscal year.
The delayed funding is in the SCS budget for the current fiscal year and is being directed to other school system items.
But commissioners favoring the delay Monday said they want to know more about school system spending priorities.
The commission approves local funding for the school system’s budget of just under $1 billion dollars.
That is $391 million in funding for the current fiscal year.
But the commission has no line item control over the school system budget.
Some commissioners favoring the delay want to see more evidence the school system is “right-sizing” or closing schools to reflect a smaller number of students.
Other commissioners, though, argued the school system’s finances aren’t as simple as closing schools and point to an environment that continues to change for local public schools.
In other action Monday, the commission accepted disparity study findings that confirm a racial disparity in the amount of county government contracts that go to minority-owned businesses.
The study by Mason Tillman and Associates is a first step toward building a program that will involve setting percentage goals for minority business participation in county government contracts.
The commission voted to accept the study results without debate.
But there was considerable debate on a follow-up $80,000 contract with Mason Tillman to help county government formulate its minority business program.
“It can all be done in house,” said commissioner Steve Basar who argued that with the results of the study and county attorneys, the county doesn’t need to spend more money with the firm.
Commissioner Van Turner, however, argued that any program is likely to be challenged in court.
“This can’t be a cookie cutter plan,” he said. “You are dealing with a race-based plan, which will likely incur a Constitutional challenge.”
The commission also approved a $1.9 million contract with Campbell Contracting Company Inc. to build a new fleet maintenance facility for the Shelby County Fire Department. The commission delayed approval of the contract two weeks ago in a debate about whether to hold the spending until a minority business plan is in place.
A resolution seeking $2.1 million in qualified energy conservation bonds to make roof and HVAC repairs to the Southbrook Mall in Whitehaven was sent back to committee by commissioners.
The owners of the mall sought $1.5 million from the city of Memphis during the administration of former Memphis Mayor A C Wharton for the same purpose but never got it.
The mall owners are seeking it in the form of the bond funding that county Chief Administrative Officer Harvey Kennedy said would incur county debt for what would “essentially turn into a grant.”
Some commissioners expressed concerns several council members had that it was public money going for a private purpose.
The commission approved Monday a $2 million contract with Petroleum Traders Corp. for gas and diesel fuel in the new fiscal year that begins July 1.
Commissioners also approved Monday grants to four nonprofits totaling $10,800. The funding comes from a grant fund of $1.3 million with each of the 13 commissioners getting an allocation of $100,000 to make in grants.
The grants must be approved by the full commission.
The four grants Monday leave the commission’s grant fund with a balance of $71,000 for the fiscal year that ends June 30.