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County Commissioners put a wrap on a $1.3 billion budget

Shelby County’s largest investment in Pre-K, new voting machines and funding for the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) are included in the $1.3 billion budget the Shelby County Board of Commissioners approved after a lengthy session Monday night.

“I think there are some big impact items,” Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris said. “Whenever you bring people up to a living wage, that makes a big impact. Whenever you invest in early childhood development, that makes a big impact.”

The budget passed on a 9-1 vote, with Commissioner Mick Wright voting against it, while Commissioners Amber Mills and Brandon Morrison abstained. Commissioner Mark Billingsley left before the final vote.

Under the new budget, which will go into effect July 1, the Shelby County tax rate of $4.05 will remain the same. The lack of an increase required the commission to turn to the county’s reserve fund, taking out more than $6 million to supplement costs. According to county officials, including Harris, using some of these funds could result in hiring freezes. The new budget will require officials who have budgeted money for worker vacancies to cut that amount by 10 percent.

Neither Shelby County Schools nor MATA received their total requested amounts. Commissioners did add $2.5 million into the budget for MATA to help improve its public infrastructure. Harris said he still plans to introduce a plan in the fall to offer additional funding for a future MATA budget.

SCS did not receive any additional funding for operations, but received $2.5 million for needs-based Pre-K, making it the largest investment in programming the county has ever contributed. A $20.25 million contract was awarded to a new nonprofit, First 8 Memphis, to run the program.

“We are as committed to our young people as much as you are,” Commission Chairman Van Turner said to the group of education advocates and parents who gathered at the meeting. “But at this time we have a tight budget because of mis-projections.” He also noted that the budget could be amended at any time to further support education endeavors.

During Monday night’s meeting, Shelby County Trustee Regina Morrison Newman explained that forecasts for property tax revenues were overstated by $10.5 million for fiscal 2019, causing challenges for this year’s budget planning.

Other budget items approved included:

* $8.8 million for capital projects, and an additional $2.2 million to go towards programs focused on phonics and coding. The one-time expenditure will have to be approved by SCS and the state.

* $2.6 million toward new voting machines.

* A 2.5 percent pay raise for county public safety employees. The remaining employees were given a 1.5 percent raise. All increases go into effect Jan. 1, 2020.

* $200,000 for each commissioner this year to distribute to community organizations of their choice, adding an extra $2.6 million to the budget. That’s up from $150,000 each last year.

* $375,000 for the Hospitality Hub towards a women’s shelter.


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