VOL. 133 | NO. 56 | Monday, March 19, 2018
County Commission Weighs New Majority, Past Experience in Preparing for Budget Season
By Bill Dries
Shelby County commissioners have plenty to occupy their time as they await the arrival of budget season in May. There is the planning and terms of the county getting into the sewer business, opioid programs and a lawsuit. There is also the exploration with the Memphis City Council and Greater Memphis Chamber of repositioning the city’s economic development pursuits.
And there are elections – the May county primaries and August county general election will render a new Shelby County mayor and at least seven new county commissioners on the body of 13.
Changes coming with the election are likely to influence the budget season that starts in May with outgoing Mayor Mark Luttrell presenting his last budget proposal.
Commission chairwoman Heidi Shafer wants to more carefully consider multi-year budget items that require more funding in the future fiscal years once the county is committed to the first year.
“I think it is respectful and right to be mindful about what dollars we are tying up and hampering the maneuvering of the next commission and next administration,” she said at a budget preview session last month with the administration.
The commission meets Monday, March 19, at 3 p.m. at the Vasco Smith Administration Building, 160 N. Main St. Follow the meeting @tdnpols, www.twitter.com/tdnpols, for live coverage.
At this point, the administration is still going through budget requests from county elected officials as part of the consolidated county budget. The administration can deny some items in the budget proposals and those elected officials can then make their case separately to the commission for the funding.
The result is a tug of war at times that the commission decides, especially when there is an increase in funding called for.
“If somebody’s asking for an increase, I want them to go through the gauntlet,” commissioner David Reaves said during the committee discussion. “I think it’s good for them to defend their budget.”
But commissioners indicated if there is no increase for a particular division or office, there won’t be a line-by-line examination of those parts of the budget and there probably won’t be an appearance before the commission’s budget committee. That is, as long as the administration includes it in its consolidated budget.
Commissioners are expecting increased requests from the District Attorney General’s office, Regional One Health and Shelby County Schools.
Budget committee chairman Eddie Jones said he expects the District Attorney General’s office to request $330,000 more in funding.
“I’m not sure that would be automatically in the administration’s budget,” Jones said. “I don’t know how that will work, but if the administration thinks that’s OK and can find the money to do that – but I kind of feel like that one will be coming to us.”
“I think they are pretty adequately staffed now,” county finance and administration director Wanda Richards said.
SCS goes to the commission for approval of its total budget. The county’s role is to provide the local funding and approve the overall amount – it does not have line-item control over the school system’s budget. But the commission does have leverage to talk with school officials about budget specifics as the only local funder of the district.
SCS officials will be the first group to appear before the budget committee.
“Like usual, I think the Shelby County Schools drives our budget discussions,” Reaves said. “When we make that decision everything else falls in line.”
Richards said the administration has seen a total of $13 million in increases from the various divisions of county government and that she, Luttrell and the rest of the administration were still looking at that and property tax projections.
“We are still going through everything received and working through requests and looking at the existing budget to see if any can be absorbed,” she told commissioners.
Jones hopes to avoid the practice in recent budget seasons of last-minute amendments to the budget from individual commissioners based on calculations about how much revenue is available.
“We have a strategic plan and want to see how all of these items of increases, as well as what we are putting in the budget, correlates with our strategic plan,” Jones said. “And have a meeting where we can discuss some things we would like to see in the budget from the commission. I don’t want to get to the end of the budget cycle and we have all of these resolutions thrown in on the last day. … I’d rather get it in early.”
Shafer agreed, adding the element of a new majority that will be coming onto the commission two months after the new fiscal year begins on July 1.
“A lot of the money was tied up, in my view, inappropriately, so we couldn’t maneuver very well,” she said referring to projects funded over several fiscal years. “Keep us away from doing quick calculations on yellow pads on the last day.”