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OK of one-penny property tax hike results from lengthy County Commission discussion

by James Coleman —

County property taxes inched up one penny to $3.46 for 2022 after Shelby County commissioners approved the hike on a protracted 7-5 vote during their Monday (June 7) meeting. 

The additional revenue – nearly $2.3 million – will be used to fund youth and adult mental health services. 

The amendment was tacked onto a rate of 3.45 and was approved on an 8-3 vote earlier in the meeting. It was submitted by Commissioner Edmund Ford Jr., who chairs the budget committee.

“Right now, and the math shows it, at $3.45, you’ve got the general fund at $1.25, you’ve got education at $1.64, your debt service at .56 cents, and you do the transfers like I saw in the exhibit A, you will still have an additional $1,651,365,” said Ford, who abstained from voting on the resolution. 

The extra cent’s proceeds will flow into the general fund, where it will be earmarked for mental health.

The rate falls from the previous rate of $4.05 per $100 assessed value. 

Property values have soared in recent years. 

Some estimates have the county’s appraisal gains topping out more than 20 percent. If rates aren’t adjusted downward, it could lead to a windfall following appraisals. Tennessee law mandates that property taxes can’t create surpluses.

Taxes from the new rate will help fund a chunk of the proposed $1.4 billion FY22budget, which begins July 1, submitted by Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris. The commission is expected to vote on it next week. It features an estimated $23 million shortfall. 

“Property taxes account for 60 percent of all the money that comes into our county. So, while you all consider this vote, while you consider the need to reduce from $4.05, just take that into consideration,” said Michael Thompson, director of Budget and Fiscal Planning for Shelby County.

He also said the mayor would like to see a 1.5 percent increase in salaries for county employees. The budget currently lacks pay raises. Bonuses also drew praise.

Commissioner Tami Sawyer offered an amendment to up the rate to $3.69. Under the proposal, homes valued under $150,000 would pay shy of $100 more annually in county property taxes. Owners whose homes appraised for $350,000 would pay an additional $200 per year.

“This amount will allow us to accommodate for a lot of the presentations that have been made by the community. Covering public transportation, our youth and education, criminal justice reform, mental health, housing and other issues that are impacting the majority of our disinvested Black neighborhoods here in Memphis,” said Sawyer.

However, it failed to gain traction within the commission and sank on a 4-8 vote. 

The proposal was similar to one offered at a Memphis City Council budget meeting Tuesday (June 8).

Council member Martavius Jones’ pitch would raise Memphis’ rate from a proposed $2.71 to $3.00 per $100 in assessed value. The proposal also comes on the heels of skyrocketing property values following reappraisals. It would bring in an estimated $46 million. 

Among the beneficiaries of the cash would be city employees, who would receive a three percent pay raise. Funding would also flow to MATA, the Affordable Housing Trust fund, Opportunity Youth Employment fund, Capital Pay Go for funding capital projects, with $1.6 leftover.

It drew immediate opposition from fellow council members.

“The timing is just not right,” said councilmember Chase Carlisle.

Meanwhile, the new county property tax rate, according to state law requires, an additional hearing with the state comptroller’s office. 

The demands don’t end there. A notice in newspapers about the change is also necessary. Finally, Mayor Harris must submit an affidavit to the board of equalization regarding the notice.

Voting in favor of the one cent increase were commissioners Van Turner Jr., Michael Whaley, Willie F. Brooks, Mickell Lowery, Eddie Jones, Sawyer and Reginald Milton. 

Voting no were Mark Billingsley, Mick Wright, David C. Bradford, Amber Mills and Brandon Morrison. Ford abstained.

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