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VOL. 133 | NO. 123 | Wednesday, June 20, 2018

County Commission Leaves Only Tax Rate Undone In Budget Season

By Bill Dries

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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 by 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 $427 million, a $7.9 million increase from the current fiscal year.

Shelby County commissioners closed out their budget season in all but one area, with a major funding compromise on additional money for Shelby County Schools. (Daily News File)

Shelby County Schools, which of the seven public schools 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 statutes 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 additional officers in schools. The bulk of that funding – $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 the $4 million fund. Luttrell’s administration ultimately agreed to find the money from another source.

• $400,000 to the Memphis Union Mission and an additional $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, who 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.”

PROPERTY SALES 61 61 6,453
MORTGAGES 46 46 4,081
BUILDING PERMITS 113 113 15,474
BANKRUPTCIES 19 19 3,289