Wharton Warns Bredesen: Don't "Skim Off" County Funds to Fill State Budget Hole 

Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton served notice on Governor Phil Bredesen Wednesday that he and others in county government will defend what is properly theirs against possible financial depredations by the state.

Addressing the downtown Kiwanis Club at lunch, Wharton took stock of the county's current situation in a depressed economy and noted that his past annual practice of journeying to Nashville "looking for money"had become obsolescent because of the general scarcity affecting all governmental jurisdictions. "I'm not a fool, so I'm not going up there this year...Anything they have up there they're going to keep up there." The county's task this year will be "to keep the state from taking anything away from us, as they've already threatened to do."

After a brief review of county finances and policy projections, Wharton returned to his concerns vis-a-vis Governor Bredesen and state government, again stating the challenge to be one of "making sure they do not take anything way," either from regular or special funds properly due the county.

"The key is to make sure the governor does not take those revenues that are supposed to be shared with the cities and counties to fill his billion-dollar hole in his budget. The other thing is to make sure about the [federal]stimulus funds -- that we get out fair share and those funds are not used to fill that billion-dollar deficit that the governor has up there.

'The temptation is great.'

"I protested against the funds going through the state. The federal government decided they would go through the state because most states already had a mechanism in place,such as the Department of Transportation. through which to channel those funds. But we've go to really work our delegation to make sure the governor does not skim off what we're supposed to get here in Shelby County.

"The temptation is great. You have $3.9 billion. What's a few million here? Nobody will ever miss it. Just shovel a bit there. Just don['t tell us what you're doing."

But, the county mayor assured his audience, "They're not going to keep us in the dark, and they're not going to feed us anything we shouldn't be eating. We're going to be on the alert, and watch what they're doing."

Wharton also made yet another pitch for single-source funding as a solution to the financing of city and county schools. And he left no doubt as to who he thought should administer the funding. "You're going to think I'm crazy, but it ought to be the county, for one reason..The county government is the one level of government. that spreads the responsibility across everybody."

Without such a solution, "There's always going to have a question as to what the city has to do until we get away from this dual funding." And Wharton offered city residents a silver lining: "If the county does take over, there will be a corresponding decrease in city taxes unless th y pick u some other service."

On other matters, the county mayor professed himself pleased with the county's control of its bonded indebtedness ("$1.8 billion in June, about where we thought it would be") and its Double-A credit ratings, but concerned about the still unknown effect of foreclosures on property tax revenues. Ordinarily, he pointed out, the county would be forging ahead with budget hearings but would have to adopt a wait-and-see attitude this year toward revenues for the time being.

Wharton also repeated warnings about the proliferation of gun crimes and called again for harsher measures to control them. He said he expected a referendum on city-county consolidation to be on the August 2010 county ballot, and he reeled of a number of improvements, at The Med, and in Arlington, Shelby Farms. Collierville, and elsewhere that could be accomplished through the use of federal stimulus funds.

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