After a stunning rejection of a proposed tax rate increase by Shelby County commissioners, County Mayor Mark Luttrell said potential funding of Shelby County Schools is in limbo.
But there could be a legal entanglement which could force the county to follow through on its previous $20 million commitment.
For the county commission it was apparently easy to just say no in rejecting the budget presented by the county mayor. But, in the aftermath comes the reality of trying to figure out what kind of cuts it will take to make a majority of commissioners finally say yes.
Mayor Luttrell thought he'd completed and submitted the kind of county budget which in any other of his years as the county's chief executive would have sailed through to passage by the county commission. But, he knew with the inclusion of millions in school funding and a decrease in property tax revenues hitting at the same time, the fiscal needs would present some difficult challenges in balancing a budget.
So, armed with what he thought was a big enough budget axe he went to work.
"We did it by really cutting back in some areas, not filling some vacant positions, eliminating a few positions going forward through attrition," Mayor Luttrell said. "I felt like we had a reasonable fair budget."
We all know now the county mayor's reasonable and fair proposal wasn't exactly what rebellious commissioners had in mind on Monday night. In rejecting a 30-cent addition to the tax rate, the majority temporarily knocked out the administration's thoughtfully crafted 6-cent increase that would have paid for a $20 million county commitment to help fill the budget gap identified by Shelby county Schools.
But, note we said "temporarily knocked out." Mayor Luttrell revealed after talking with SCS Interim Superintendent Dorsey Hopson on Wednesday, he's asked the county attorney for a legal opinion.
"There's the possibility that the cuts will not impact education," Mayor Luttrell said. "Some legal standards that say once you've made that commitment that you can't withdraw it without the school board agreeing to it. We're trying to get some clarification on that law."
While we're on the subject of clarity that's what Mayor Luttrell hopes to get Thursday and over the next few days when he meets with county commissioners to listen to their ideas on setting a tax rate. In particular, Commissioner Justin Ford, who once supported the administration's original 36-cents total increase to $4.38, then voted against it Monday, now says he has a plan of his own.
Actually, if Commissioner Ford does indeed have a comprehensive solution to the budget impasse he'd be far ahead of his colleagues who've bellowed about draconian cuts, but have not been forthcoming with specifics on what they would hack.
"Comprehensively we haven't had real significant input from the county commissioners," Mayor Luttrell said. "In particularly those that have had strong advocates for cutting. We haven't had significant alternatives presented to us of what they would cut."
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