Shelby County commissioners defeated a proposed property tax hike by a vote of 7-5 Monday afternoon that would have added 36 cents to the current rate.
The commission goes back to the drawing board to figure out how to pay for county programs and the new merged Shelby County Schools district. The vote could mean cuts to programs and possible layoffs.
We are eight days into the county's new budget year and they don't have a plan to pay the bills. The commission was considering a 36-cent tax increase supported by Mayor Mark Luttrell that was defeated.
The commission, county administration, and the Shelby County Schools board of education have been working on the budget for months. Monday afternoon they considered a tax rate of $4.38, with six cents going to pay for the school system's budget gap.
Many people on both sides of the issue showed up for the meeting. The commission was split, with the majority of the commissioners against a tax increase. The seven commissioners said county residents and businesses can't afford it.
But the supporters argued the county can't afford to underfund the schools.
"This is our time today to get this school system right!," said Commissioner Melvin Burgess. "I'm investing in this school system, my daughter. I've got friends that are in the Shelby County Schools system. Our kids depend on it. I don't care where these kids are from."
"Not funding a tax increase doesn't mean that the schools are going to disappear," added Commissioner Heidi Shafer. "We're not going back to ground zero. It's just about where we're going to get smarter and where we're going to fine tune and how we are going to be the best stewards of the taxpayers money."
After the commission voted down the proposal they took some votes on alternative tax rates. They tried last year's number of $4.02 and the certified tax rate of $4.32, but both of those votes also failed.
So they commission needs to figure out a compromise. Mayor Luttrell is warning that any tax decreases will have serious consequences.
"We're going to have to really hear from them a little bit clearer because when we bring them back a budget, that budget is going to show some significant cuts in some very critical areas of our community," the mayor said. "If we have to, we're going to have to take a hard look at and decide if that's what they want from county government."
Mr. Luttrell said with less money coming in, the county would have to make cuts to public safety and the health care. That could include cuts at The MED.
The commission sent the budget back to committee and at this point it looks like the earliest they could get a deal on the tax rate is early August.
In the meantime, the county will have to watch its spending because they don't know how much money they'll have to pay the bills.
"The irony of it all is we have a budget that reflects the higher tax rate," the mayor said. "But we're just going to have to routinely use good judgment and not over-spend and try to hold the expense down until we can get a little bit clearer picture. I would just really caution the commission to be careful what they ask for because the decisions they made today do not paint a pretty picture for our community."