VOL. 133 | NO. 122 | Tuesday, June 19, 2018
County Commission Leaves Only Tax Rate Undone in Budget Season
By Bill Dries
Shelby County commissioners took final action Monday, June 18, on every item in its budget season except a final approval of a $4.05 county property tax rate.
The approval of a $1.3 billion county consolidated operating budget and a $90.2 million capital
budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 came with unanimous votes of the 13-member body.
The operating budget leaves intact the basic premise of the budget Shelby County mayor Mark Luttrell proposed in May that increases school funding by county government to a total of $427 million, a $7.9 million increase from the current fiscal year.
Shelby County Schools, which of the seven public school system in the county gets the lion’s share of the money based on an average daily attendance split, pushed for more funding to close a remaining $6.6 million gap.
A compromise worked out over the weekend, keeps the county’s funding at $427 million. But it allows the school system to come back before October for up to $6.6 million in non-recurring one time funding from a surplus in the county education fund that is expected to total around $10 million at the end of the current fiscal year.
Because the additional funding would be one-time, it would not increase the amount of money county government is required to provide under the state’s “maintenance of effort” funding statues for school systems that ends June 30.
The amendment was approved unanimously by the commission.
“We were going back and forth even over the weekend,” budget committee chairman Eddie Jones said of the talks among commissioners, the administration and the school system.
Beyond that, the commission made several minor amendments that included:
•$1.5 million more for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office for 30 more officers in schools. The bulk of the funding for that -- $1.3 million – was to come from the SCSO narcotics fund. But the sheriff’s administration opposed that, saying it didn’t want to deplete a $4 million fund. Luttrell’s administration ultimately agreed to find the money from another source.
•$900,000 across two grants to the Memphis Union Mission and another $100,000 for connected outreach services by Good Samaritan Church
•An elimination of all capital funds for bike lanes proposed by commission chairwoman Heidi Shafer. Shafer argued that it would “encumber” or obligate the new administration and mayor to continue bike lanes. “I don’t think it sends the right message to invest in more bike lanes,” she said. Because the funding is part of larger amounts for road improvements, a total of the amount of money involved was not available late Monday.
The commission also approved on the second of three readings Monday a property tax rate of $4.05 recommended by Luttrell. The first and second reading votes are symbolic since under the commission’s rules an ordinance automatically advances to third and final reading. The final reading is scheduled for July 9.
The rate, a six-cent drop from the current $4.11 rate, compensates for a $20 million windfall the county got from the 2017 countywide property reappraisal when the estimated appeals allowance proved to be an over-estimate. Leveling that windfall accounts for five cents of the tax rate reduction with another penny being a tax cut.
An attempt by commissioner Reginald Milton to set a tax rate of $4.06 was voted down by the commission.
“Most of us are not coming back,” Milton said of the eight commissioners who are not up for re-election in the August county general elections. “This is something the next body will have to live with. Let them decide that.”
In other action Monday, the commission mustered the nine votes needed to override a veto by Luttrell.
Luttrell vetoed the commission’s reappointment of Julian Bolton as its legislative policy advisor. Luttrell questioned the part of that job description that included giving the commission legal advice. Luttrell says the county attorney is the attorney for the commission as well as the mayor. And he said Bolton could have been appointed to the position as an employee of the county attorney’s office.
The commission also learned Monday that its attempt to meet with Paul Summers, the coordinator of the county’s settlement agreement with the U.S. Justice Department over conditions at Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court won’t have any meeting with the body as a whole.
Commissioner Willie Brooks said Summers has told the administration that he will only meet with commissioners individually – meaning the meetings would not be public meetings under the state open meeting law.
“I don’t appreciate us having to go hat in hand,” Shafer said.
Summers has told Justice Department officials that he thinks federal oversite of the court should end and that he doesn’t believe there is a racial disparity in how black juveniles are treated, a disparity documented by Justice Department findings in 2012.
Summers was appointed the new settlement coordinator after previous coordinator Bill Powell resigned last year. Powell resigned in protest after Luttrell, Juvenile Court judge Dan Michael and Sheriff Bill Oldham sent a letter to the Justice Department last year requesting an end to the federal oversite.
The Justice Department later agreed to drop some provisions because of data showing improvement, but kept the agreement in place on the critical areas of due process and racial disparities.
Luttrell has said he is reviewing Summers’ recommendation and doesn’t know if he will support it or not.