While the approved final district maps did not sit well with some commissioners, the maps, because of amendments approved Monday, settled some of the lingering contentious issues.

by James Coleman —

Shelby County Commissioners cut around $58 million out of the county’s American Rescue Act pie after approving funding for a slate of items.

The cuts and approvals capped weeks of back and forth on how the federal rescue funds should be spent. 

The commissioners’ action, which came during their Oct. 18 meeting, was part of Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris’ overall $130 million proposal for the relief money through fiscal year 2022, which ends June 30.

“This is really only the start of the conversation. I want to remind commissioners, even after this particular milestone is reached, we’ll be back before the commission dozens and dozens of times to talk about each one these items in detail … to receive feedback from the commissioners,” said Harris prior to the vote.

Among the winners this round were the county’s various healthcare systems and hospitals, which have routinely been understaffed during the pandemic.

Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare and Baptist Memorial Healthcare will both receive $3.5 million; $2.4 million will go to St. Francis Hospitals Memphis and Bartlett.

Regional One Health, the county-owned hospital, which plans an expansion of its trauma center, will net $19.1 million. Part of its funding was secured in a prior resolution.

County health clinics, for their part, will see an infusion of $1.9 million for renovation and expansion. Another $4.3 million will cover access to preventative health care for Shelby County’s uninsured. 

Food insecurity was also addressed. Mid-South Food Bank will get $3 million in funding. Its funding swelled after an original marker was set at $1 million.

“This is the product of really, really collaborative meetings between our administration and Commissioner (Eddie) Jones, who came forward and pressed the case on behalf of those in need of food and the work the food bank does,” said Harris.

Area homeless will benefit from an additional $3.2 million for case management and transitional housing. Another $3.2 million will address the mental health needs of inmates.

Commissioner Edmund Ford Jr. referred a handful of items back to committee for further study. They include an unknown amount to “manage deficits” at the FedExForum. According to commission Chairman Willie Brooks, the contents of that conversation are required to be confidential. Last week, an attorney-client meeting was held with commissioners.

“We’ll have another executive session to review the item related to the FedExForum,” Brooks said.

Broadband expansion funding for at-home students was delayed after questions arose on whether enough money was being allocated for the effort, even with a possible 80/20 state funding match. The issue will come up for a vote during November’s first commission meeting.

Ford questioned whether the estimated $2.5 million in proposed funding “would … really be enough to give broadband to underserved communities in the entire county?’” 

A $1.3 million item labeled “miscellaneous” spending also got the hook. It would pay for a consultant and staff that would aid the county’s reporting of its ARPA fund use to federal officials.

Other criticisms and scrutiny crept in the funding discussion, including money for public safety, the largest line item, although it was included in the final vote.

“I do think it’s misleading to have under public safety $30 million, when $25 million of that is really for employee bonuses and not directly related (to public safety),” said Commissioner Brandon Morrison. “So, I think we are short on the public safety piece….”