A C's Initiative

Those who consider Shelby County mayor A C Wharton the epitome of political consensus and those who regard him as essentially a frontman for established interests might withhold further judgment pending the outcome of his current campaign to revamp Shelby County's revenue options.

In proposing a three-tiered set of options for the property tax, each involving a different segment of the county's developmental infrastructure, the county mayor hopes to break loose the logjam that has long forestalled any fundamental change in the tax system. Though Wharton himself would not choose to put it this way, his initiative seems aimed at creating fissures in a front of opposition to tax overhaul by the county's realtors, home builders, and developers.

On Monday, the 13-member County Commission mustered eight votes to endorse legislative consideration of a real estate transfer tax, to be assessed on sales of real property, while deferring action on two other proposed levies -- an impact fee and a so-called adequate facilities tax. Realtors would be most directly affected by the real estate transfer tax, while the burden of the other two would fall in varying degree on homebuilders and developers.

Although spokesmen for the three industries were on hand Monday to express an across-the-board resistance to all the proposals, intense negotiations were under way behind the scenes, with at least one prominent developer, Rusty Hyneman, said to be playing a leading role. At some point between now and the commission's next meeting on January 10th, a consensus is likely to emerge behind one of the three proposals. The key to that was signaled in a parliamentary move made Monday, when commissioners accepted an amendment from David Lillard to confine potential new revenues from the proposed transfer tax to use for educational purposes.

If sentiment should shift to one of the other proposed taxes, a similar provision would likely be appended to it.

Though legislative opponents of a new tax pointed to the relative narrowness of Monday's vote, the fact remains that it crossed party lines, and the Tennessee General Assembly, which must approve any of the proposed plans, might well look with favor on a revenue option earmarked for education.


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