VOL. 132 | NO. 137 | Wednesday, July 12, 2017
Commission Approves $1.2B County Budget
By Bill Dries
At the end of a marathon seven-hour meeting Monday, July 10, with one item on its agenda, the Shelby County Commission agreed on a $1.2 billion budget, including about $1.4 million in amendments added by the commission.
And Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell said his administration could live with it using the county’s fund balance or reserves.
But aside from the vote, commissioners were still divided on whether to fund the budget with a $4.13 county property tax rate that keeps property taxes level in terms of revenue generated countywide or go for a 3-cent reduction to a rate of $4.10.
The commission takes a third and final vote on the tax rate at its July 17 meeting, with the $4.10 rate having passed in the two previous readings.
Luttrell said he can make the budget work based on a $4.10 tax rate but would prefer a $4.13 rate that allows the 3 cents in play to be used to start a pay-as-you-go fund for financing smaller capital projects without using bond funding and incurring the resulting debt.
Luttrell also said he would even like to see a penny or 2 cents toward the effort in a compromise.
The additions commissioners made to the budget included:
• A 2 percent across-the-board pay raise for all county employees for the fiscal year that began July 1.
• $66,000 in additional funding to the Shelby County Drug Court.
• $100,000 more for the Shelby County Law Library, which the county hopes will be reimbursed by state government.
• A pay raise for the nine General Sessions Judicial Commissioners, taking them from $93,000 to $115,000 a year.
• $50,000 more in grant funding allocated to each of the 13 commissioners, taking them to $150,000 per commissioner, which added $650,000 to the budget.
Commissioners can propose uses by nonprofit charitable organizations with their shares of the funding and those uses must be approved by the full commission.
The approval was followed by a debate among commissioners and with Luttrell over the wisdom of the program.
Luttrell expressed concerns about the accountability of the organizations once the grants are approved.
“The downside of this is jail. If you screw it up, you can go to the pokey,” Luttrell said. “And people have gone to the pokey for screwing it up here in Shelby County.”
“We have done a fine job with this funding,” countered commissioner Reginald Milton, who proposed the grant funding arrangement two fiscal years ago.
Luttrell said he wasn’t “pointing fingers” at commissioners but called for more follow-up, which he said the administration will now do.
“When you start referencing about people going to jail, you are pointing fingers,” said commissioner Willie Brooks.
Commissioner David Reaves moved to abolish the grant funding entirely. The motion was voted down.
In other budget amendments offered, the commission voted down $1.63 million in funding to add Boys and Girls Clubs locations in several Shelby County Schools.
It shelved, at least for now, funding to hire 25 new sheriff’s deputies to work within the city in cooperation with Memphis Police, as well as $2 million toward general anti-blight efforts outside of the county’s current efforts on properties taken for failure to pay taxes.
The commission also voted to pursue funding from the Economic Development Growth Engine, or EDGE, for $1.5 million in renovations for the Southbrook Mall and another $500,000 as a match to city funding for a new Whitehaven YMCA swimming pool. The pool would be located on Methodist Healthcare South property and would be for public use as well as patients’ rehabilitation.