Friday, June 25, 2010

Council, Commission Meet Over Consolidation

Posted By on Fri, Jun 25, 2010 at 11:42 AM

The Metro Charter Commission, enacted by a joint City Council/County Commission vote to create a new charter for a combined government, presented 14 recommendations to those two bodies yesterday at the U of M.

The recommendations included separate school systems; adopting the annexation reserve areas of the suburban cities; mayors and legislators limited to two four-year terms; non-partisan elections; an appointed chief of police to head up public safety and an elected sheriff to be over the jails; an annual five-year strategic plan from the mayor's office; a countywide network of parks; an office of general counsel that would streamline and stem legal controversy; a three-year property-tax freeze under the new government; three taxing districts (urban, general, and special); and, among others, one IT system for all of the various branches of government, including judicial and the constitutional offices such as the sheriff.

Still pending is how the legislative districts would be drawn under the new government.

"This is not personal; this is structural," said charter commission chair Julie Ellis. "Our two-government structure impedes collaboration and cooperation. ... We have found there is a tremendous opportunity to operate more efficiently."

As evidence, Ellis also cited Shelby County's loss of population and income ($1.9 billion, to be exact) over the past decade. About 2,500 local households moved to Nashville alone.

"We should be competing with these other communities, but we're competing with each other," Ellis said.

As if to prove her point, council woman Barbara Swearengen Ware asked why unincorporated Shelby County has to approve the consolidation measure for it to go through because "it will not affect those municipalities. .. I think it is wrong for them to vote. You don't try to run someone else's house if you don't live there.

In response, County Commissioner Wyatt Bunker said, "I don't believe I've ever heard anyone say this is not going to affect the residents of Shelby County until I came to this meeting. How many ways is this going to affect the residents of Shelby County and the suburbs? I just heard a minute ago that we're going to have to share in the burden of funding the parks. ... Is Memphis going to contribute to Collierville parks?"

But the big issue for many of the elected officials seemed to be the proposed three-year tax freeze.

"The tax freeze means property taxes can't increase for three years," said city council member Jim Strickland, also a representative of the metro charter commission. "If they want to decrease it, they can."

In her summary, Ellis said some of the "new" things that would come out of the new government would be stricter ethical standards, alignment of government services, a focus on small businesses, and an inspector general to prevent fraud.

On a side note, MATA was not under the transportation division in the proposed charter, but one of several metro agencies that would be autonomous. Funding for the transportation service, however, would still fall to those citizens living in the urban taxing district of the new government.

County Commissioner Mike Carpenter asked if MATA wouldn't be better served as a regional service, paid for by the general taxing district.

"You and I agree," Ellis said. "We left it in the urban taxing district because of pushback by citizens outside of Memphis who do not want to pay for it."

The metro charter commission currently has three public meetings scheduled: July 8th at the Botanic Gardens; July 15th at Southwind High; and July 22nd at the Ed Rice Community Center.

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