VOL. 133 | NO. 83 | Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Republican Contenders for County Mayor Offer Different Views on Taxes
By Bill Dries
The three Republican primary contenders for Shelby County mayor have spent a lot of their time together talking about taxes this campaign season.
Shelby County commissioner Terry Roland has talked about the last budget season’s two-cent reduction in the county property tax rate after the tax rate was adjusted down to a new certified rate following the 2017 property reappraisal.
Shelby County trustee David Lenoir has said the new certified tax rate produces more revenue than the two-cents the commission took out of the rate.
And juvenile court clerk Joy Touliatos said if elected mayor she will veto any property tax rate that the county commission might approve on her watch.
The last forum of the campaign featuring all three last week was no exception.
Speaking at the monthly luncheon of the West Tennessee chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., Roland said his role as a commissioner is the only hands-on experience among the three that counts.
“The only tax decrease that we’ve had in the last eight years will be the ones that I have brought up,” he said. “We got 12 votes for that budget. When’s the last time you saw six Democrats vote for a tax decrease?”
It took Lenoir a few questions and answers to get back to that point.
“The reason the Democrats voted for the tax rate decrease is because it wasn’t a tax rate decrease,” he said. “The majority of Shelby Countians are paying more in taxes this year than they were last year. It was a reappraisal year. Your property values went up on average 13 percent. Your tax rate only went down five. Your taxes are higher now than they were eight years ago.”
Roland said it’s not that simple and neither is the estimated $18 million to $25 million surplus the county administration estimates will be waiting at the June 30 end of the current fiscal year.
“We over-estimated the appeals,” he said of appeals of values in the reappraisal, which is an estimate involved in setting the tax rate. “That’s why we’re getting back the lion’s share. And we’re going to push to give it back to the taxpayers.”
Lenoir says it is a recurring problem that has surfaced during his two terms as trustee.
“We’ve actually dealt with this issues seven of the eight years that I’ve been in office,” he said of the surpluses. “Government does not make money. We take money. So the surpluses are from you.”
He also said he would like to eliminate the personal property tax – calling it “one of the taxes I hate the most.”
“We send 28,000 of those bills out. Fourteen-thousand of those bills are for $150 or less,” Lenoir said. “Talk about inefficiency – to send someone a bill for $32. It just doesn’t make sense.”
He also noted that Michigan recently abolished the personal property tax.
“You bought a table,” Lenoir said. “You paid sales tax on it. Granted – I understand you’ve got a business expense deduction for buying that table. But why are we continually taxing you on that year after year after year?”
Touliatos’ vow to veto any property tax increase the commission might approve came after the ABC forum.
“If there’s a surplus the money needs to go back,” she said. “We need to have a tax decrease.”
After the forum, Touliatos also said she would implement “zero-based budgeting that requires different divisions of county government to justify all spending.”
As juvenile court clerk, Touliatos has a budget that is part of the consolidated county government budget Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell will present to the commission next month.
Before that budget goes to the commission Luttrell and his administration review the request in a detailed way and then decide if they will include it in the consolidated budget or leave some requests out that they don’t agree with and let the elected official make a case to the commission for it.
Commission budget committee chairman Eddie Jones has said his committee will focus on those areas as opposed to a line-by-line review of everything in what will be Luttrell’s last budget proposal.
What the commission approves and the tax rate it sets before the July 1 start of the new fiscal year will be what the new mayor and a commission with at least seven new members will live with for the first year of their new terms of office that begin Sept. 1.