VOL. 132 | NO. 144 | Friday, July 21, 2017
Commission Locks In $4.11 Tax Rate With 10-0 Vote
By Bill Dries
Shelby County Commissioners closed the books Wednesday, July 19, on another budget season with approval on third and final reading of a county property tax rate of $4.11.
The fourth commission meeting in a week and a half ran about 20 minutes, ending with the 10-0 vote. Several commissioners were absent from the special meeting.
Much of the debate before the vote wasn’t about the tax rate. It was about whether the drop of 2 cents from the $4.13 rate certified by the state – to produce the same amount of revenue as the old rate of $4.37 by law – was a cut in the rate or a cut in taxes.
After Monday’s vote on the $4.11 rate that set the stage for Wednesday’s final vote, commissioner Eddie Jones questioned whether county government would get a windfall from the rate and presented some numbers showing he believed that to be the case.
“We can’t identify specifically those numbers,” county chief administrative officer Harvey Kennedy said when asked about the calculations. “It’s a partial calculation of the property taxes. As far as the variables that are in the certified property tax rate, there are adjustments that are taken right from the assessor.”
There is also an allowance the state grants for appeals of property values from the countywide reappraisal every four years. The certified rate doesn’t preclude the commission from then acting separately to increase or decrease the new certified rate.
But commissioners are hearing from property owners whose residential values have, in many cases, gone up more than the 13 percent countywide average. It is that countywide average, along with other mitigating factors like the appeals allowance, that go into setting the certified rate.
Among the most vocal critics of the certified rate is Shelby County Trustee David Lenoir, who said in April the county tax rate should have been set below the $4.13 certified rate.
Commissioner David Reaves said his tax bill will go up around $85 as a result.
“Most of the people are going to say, ‘But you didn’t cut my taxes,’” he said. “There’s still a significant gap in our communities. … Do I think we need to cut it more? Absolutely.”
But he said the better political strategy may be to cut the rate more over time.
“A reduction in the tax rate is better than no reduction at all,” he concluded “The extra amount of taxes people are paying … is horrible. They need tax relief. They need more tax relief. I’ll be looking at more tax relief next year.”
Commissioner Heidi Shafer’s district includes Cordova as well as East Memphis. She surveyed six parcels in Cordova and found the tax bill of some goes up “slightly” and three others go down.
“I think at the end of the day what we are looking at is the balance over the full county,” she said. “You can cherry pick it to show whichever side of the coin you are trying to argue.”
Shafer, who proposed the cut from $4.13 to $4.10, called the $4.11 tax rate “bold” and an “assertive stance.”
Jones remained wary even though he voted for the $4.11 rate.
“Some of my constituents were saying they wanted a tax cut. I’m fine with where we are,” Jones said. “As the years go on and we have an opportunity to revisit the budget and see where we are and how much we’ve actually collected… trust me, when they come in I’m going to be looking at it real close.”
The commission gets regular reports from the trustee and the administration on revenue collections during the course of the fiscal year.