Sunday, June 14, 2020

State Funding Could Plug County's Budget Hole

Posted By on Sun, Jun 14, 2020 at 2:19 PM

After several marathon budget-review sessions and an interminable and mind-boggling amount of numbers-crunching and wrangling, Shelby
click to enlarge Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson announcing relief of grant restrictions
  • Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson announcing relief of grant restrictions
County’s budget stalemate may finally reach something resembling a satisfactory conclusion at Monday’s scheduled Shelby County Commission meeting.

Going into the weekend, the commission still had something like a $5 million+ looming deficit to make up. In the weeks of fretting over possible cuts and reallocations, a schism of sorts had developed between the county administration of Mayor Lee Harris, whose initial budget was rejected, and Eddie Jones and Edmund Ford Jr., chairman and vice-chair, respectively, of the commission budget committee.

In recent meetings, the impasse had come down, more or less, to non-stop sparring between Jones and Ford, on one hand, and county Chief Financial Officer Mathilde Crosby, on the other. The discussion wandered, as they say, into the weeds, and the weeds grew ever denser and more impenetrable.

On the eve of Monday’s meeting, two possible solutions were on the brink of being proposed. Jones had a formula which, he said, involved changes to the education portion of the budget, while Commissioner Van Turner was ready to propose substantial borrowing from the county’s fund balance, or “rainy day fund,” temporarily dispensing with county government’s tradition of maintaining the fund at 20 percent of the county budget.
Meanwhile, state government, acting as a deus ex machina, may have resolved the dilemma for the county by removing restrictions on $200 million previously offered by Governor Bill Lee to the state’s local governments for help with infrastructure needs and COVID-related expenses.

In its version of a $39.4 billion state budget completed last Thursday, the state Senate, in order to deal with what Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (D-Franklin) called the “dire circumstances” of localities, voted to take any restriction off how local governments chose to spend the money. Indications are that the House, which has yet to finish its deliberations, will follow suit in approving removal of the restrictions.

Shelby County’s share of the money, which will become available as of the new fiscal year on July 1, is $7,756,653, enough, if applied to the county general fund, to overcome the remaining amounts of a prospective budget deficit.

The county’s sum had been spoken for some weeks ago in the form of a commission resolution to use it for partial funding of the county’s Juvenile Rehab and Education Center, but Commissioner Turner said he would be willing to pursue a formal rescinding of that proposed allocation — even, if necessary, to seek an override of a mayoral veto — in order to re-access the state money for the purpose of budgetary resolution.

Shelby County government isn’t the only local beneficiary of the state grant funds. Memphis’ share is $14,388,140, while the moneys available to the other county municipalities are as follows: Arlington, $288,135; Bartlett, $1,338,991; Collierville, $1,147,017; Germantown, $892,855; Lakeland, $308,438; and Millington, $265,802.

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