The Tennessee constitution states a county’s commission “shall” name a replacement. They would serve until election day, or longer, if re-elected. However, it apparently does not impose a penalty if the commission decides not to do so. 

by James Coleman —

Budget hearings got underway with Shelby County Commissioners Tuesday (May 11), kicking off three days of case-making by various agencies for funding requests for FY 2022.

Both the commission and the administration of Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris are hoping to shoehorn the mayor’s budget over the next four weeks. 

Voting on budget items in committee will not begin until May 19.

“I want to commend you – and the administration wants to commend you – on such an aggressive scheduling to try and meet a June 7 budget passing,” said Michael Thompson, budget director for the Shelby County Civil Finance Department. 

Members of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners, including Commissioner Tami Sawyer, met this week in person for the first time since the pandemic forced them into virtual sessions. Courtesy photo)

Commission members heard requests for capital improvement and infrastructure projects, the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office, the Assessor of Property, Register of Deeds and the Trustee.

The bulk of the minutes, however, were devoted to CIP projects. The county maintains a $75 million cap on the Capital Improvement Plan.

The only major road project in the county’s CIP five-year plan, slated for construction in 2022, is the Hack’s Cross Road project. 

A 1.8-mile stretch of the road from Shelby Drive to Stateline Rd. will be widened from two to seven lanes. It includes pedestrian and bicycle facilities, as well as landscaping. 

In an 80/20 split, the federal government will kick in $13.1 million for the project. The county’s tab will be $3.3 million. 

Law enforcement would also be a beneficiary of CIP upgrades, including a Corrections High-Definition Camera Project for the Shelby County Jail, costing $1.8 million. A new video system for the lower level of 201 Poplar also made the wish list.

“It really makes it a challenge to ensure that we find the right projects; to make sure our divisions, our elected officials, really articulate to us what they need as we are going through this CIP process and developing this CIP budget that we are going to present to you today from the administration,” said Cliff Noville, Shelby County Public Works Director.

The D.A.’s office is asking for reinstatement of four positions eliminated during the pandemic, including an assistant D.A. slot and a digital evidence analyst. The ongoing workload was cited as further justification for their return.

“It’s had a very big impact on our office. One of those positions is an Assistant District Attorney. We always need more resources in the courtroom. Much of what we do beyond the courthouse involves the expertise and the skills of an assistant district attorney,” said District Attorney General Amy Weirich.

The impact of the county’s property reappraisal plan also came up during the meeting, including scenarios for its approval or failure. 

The two-year plan was proposed by the Assessor’s Office to soften the blow of higher property taxes after values jumped as high as 30 percent for some owners. 

Previously, the county conducted assessments every four years.

“If the commission does not approve the plan that we’ve submitted to the commission, the assessor at that point will have to go back to the drawing board and redraw a four-year plan, which will take a little time,” said Javier Bailey, chief administrator for the Assessor’s Office.

The failure to pass a two-year plan would spur the state to conduct a sales ratio study for Shelby County. Today’s assessed values would be compared with those in two years. The state would equalize the difference.

Questions linger about whether a four-year assessment cycle would cover the county’s future tabs.

“Given the fact each year your budget is going to increase because the cost of this is going up, cost of that is going up, contractual – it’s going to increase. Is that enough money to handle that, is what I’m trying to find out,” said Commission Chairman Eddie Jones.

Budget hearings are scheduled for next Wednesday and Thursday (April 12-13) starting at 3 p.m.