If there is one thing that suburban candidates for the Shelby County Commission tend to agree on, it is that tax increases are off the table, in regard to both existing problems and to governmental innovations going forward.
That much was made clear Monday night when the four Republican candidates for the new District 3 County Commission seat met at the Bartlett Community Center for a forum conducted by the Northeast Shelby Republican Club’s Frank Colvett.
Early on, all four hopefuls — Sherry Simmons; David Reaves; Kelly Price; and Nazer Fazullah — took the no-new-tax pledge, and when moderator Colvett later turned the screw, asking the candidates how they would decide if faced with a choice of cutting county fire and police services by 5 percent or raising taxes, they all held the line — though with various degrees of unease.
With a regretful look, Reaves said services would have to be cut, Price said essentially the same but promised to work with administrators to make the cuts as harmless as possible; and Fazullah and Simmons both suggested that more fine-tuning of the budget might allow the choice to be averted.
All except Reaves, who noted that the county tax rate had been increased last year and wanted further cuts, were willing to endorse County Mayor Mark Luttrell’s proposed $1.16 billion budget, however conditionally. Reaves suggested reductions could be obtained by eliminating out-sourcing of food services for county prisoners and using existing school nutrition sources, and by consolidating IT services, a one-time Luttrell proposal that had proved to be a bugaboo with various turf-conscious department heads.
Another given in Republican circles is skepticism about governmental controls, a fact that elicited outright disapproval from three of the candidates of the currently controversial Common Core proposal for educational standards. Simmons, whose 35 years of teaching experience in Shelby County schools made her the only educator in the group, gave a grudging approval of the concept of uniform standards, provided that students were given time to adapt to Common Core’s testing procedures.
Summing up what seemed to be a group disapproval of subservience to “national models,” Reaves, an exponent of more vo-tech to counter poverty, complained that local school systems “should quit sucking money out of Bill Gates and the rest of his buddies.”
The other three candidates had some one-liners, too. Simmons, agreeing with the others about swearing off free sports tickets and other perks, made a tongue-in-cheek exception for national championship games featuring the University of Alabama. Price, suggesting that recent public-school changes had been mainly cosmetic and not for the better, said that if he changed his name to “Dr. J,” he still wouldn’t be able to play basketball.
For his part, Fazullah, who proposed creation of a “fund” to assist small business, said that local government in the past had been subject to the Golden Rule: “Those who have the gold have made the rules.”
The candidates were split on some issues, like PILOTs (payment-in-lieu-of-tax provisions) to attract industry, with Reaves and Simmons approving PILOTs as necessary and Price and Fazullah expressing doubt about their efficacy.
All in all, however, the quartet stuck fairly close to the traditional GOP talking points of low taxes, less government, and greater efficiencies. Asked to choose a single highest priority, Simmons and Reaves named education, while Fazullah and Price suggested “entrepreneurship” and “small business,” respectively.
Colvett had cautioned the candidates to avoid "personal" disagreements, and, in fact, the event was devoid of any significant disharmony, though Simmons and Reaves — or, more exactly, their supporters — have hit some sharply competitive notes in social media.