Thursday, March 4, 2010

Former Indy Mayor on Consolidation

Posted By on Thu, Mar 4, 2010 at 6:26 PM

Stephen Goldsmith, the former mayor of Indianapolis, played it straight in his presentation to the Metropolitan Government Charter Commission Committee Thursday.

In doing so, however, he may not have given much comfort to consolidation supporters because of his comments about taxes.

Goldsmith, 63, was in high school when Indianapolis and Marion County consolidated and was mayor from 1992-2000. He now teaches at Harvard University. He was the guest of honor for a couple of Memphis events Thursday.

"You have my sympathy," he told the committee that includes city and county representation. "There is no answer for the problem you are addressing."

He suggested the committee focus on exactly what government services should be consolidated. He noted that Indianapolis had dozens of remaining tax jurisdictions and a 29-member council after consolidation. And he said the school systems were never consolidated and it was 20 years before the police and fire departments were consolidated.

He said consolidation resulted in a higher quality of public service in the county outside the city, 40 percent fewer employees (except in public safety) over time due mainly to attrition, and the ability to speak with a single voice on economic development. Jobs were brought to the city.

"You can't be a thriving suburb of a hollow shell," he said.

He said jobs, crime, and taxes are the three biggest issues for mayors. And he said "clarity on the tax issue is really important" for the groups studying consolidation.

The current property tax rate in Memphis is $7.26, higher than Bartlett ($5.55), Germantown ($5.46), Collierville ($5.24), and Lakeland ($4.06).

After the meeting, I told him about the tax discrepancy between city and county residents in Memphis and Shelby County. I said Memphis taxes would likely go down and county taxes would go up under consolidation because city residents are currently taxed twice, paying Memphis and Shelby County taxes.

"Then why would anyone (outside the city) vote for it?" he asked.

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