Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Luttrell: County’s Glass “Half Full,” But More Money Needed

Mayor predicts property tax hike of “9 to 10” percent; notes school estimates suggest 30 percent.

Posted By on Wed, Feb 6, 2013 at 2:34 PM

Luttrell at Kiwanis
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  • Luttrell at Kiwanis
The Shelby County property tax rate is probably going to go up by “9 or 10 percent,” according to County Mayor Mark Luttrell, who told members of the Kiwanis Club and guests Wednesday that the actual needs of county government, taking at face value the Unified School Board's estimates of needed funding, could require an increase of up to 30 percent.

That latter sum was, however, out of the question, he said. As Luttrell pointed out, any increase larger than 10 percent requires a super-majority of 9 votes on the County Commission, and “there aren’t going to be 9 votes” for an increase that high.

The School Board has asked for an additional $80 to $90 million in order to create a "world class" school system, Luttrell said.

He acknowledged that the ongoing merger of formerly separate city and county school systems will indeed require more funding — much of it to pay for the substitution of Shelby County deputies for City of Memphis police to serve as the unified system’s security officers.

But the mayor made it clear he thought the Unified Board had the duty to be realistic in making more budget cuts than those already indicated and to exercise “due diligence,” as other taxpayer-funded public agencies have had to. He said he would be meeting with acting system superintendent John Aitken and other school officials later this week to underscore that message.

School issues constituted only part of the county’s additional burden, as Luttrell saw it. He pointed out that a new agreement reached by the county administration with the Department of Justice over DO-mandated reforms of Juvenile Court would cost another $5 million to implement.

(The mayor did not touch upon it in his remarks, but the County Commission has raised questions about their exclusion from negotiations in reaching this agreement and has challenged. it; for that and other reasons, commissioners have begun the process of hiring a governmental lobbyist to represent the interests of the Commission.)

Another $5 million will be needed to compensate for the fact that property appraisals in Shelby County are expected to decrease by an average of 5 to 10 percent, Luttrell said.

For all the financial problems bearing down on Shelby County, Luttrell characterized the county’s status as a case of the glass being “half full.” He praised county operations ranging from those of the Health Department, the Office of Sustainability, and the EDGE board to the county’s participation in “last chance scholarships” of the Tennessee Achievers program.

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