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SC Mayor Lee Harris’ proposed budget includes raises for county employees — without a tax increase

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris presented his proposed $1.6 billion budget FY 2025 dubbed “Taking Care of the People of Shelby County” to members of the Shelby County Commission’s Budget & Finance Committee during its Wednesday, May 1 meeting.

In addition to funding a series of priorities – like a six percent across-the-board raise for nearly all county employees – the submission also preserves the second-term mayor’s annual pledge not to raise property taxes. 

“Like every year, I present to you a budget with no tax increase. I’m the only county mayor – Democrat or Republican – in the last two decades or so, to never have proposed a property tax increase. With your help, we’ve always run a lean operation. We find efficiency and savings that help us do more with less,” said Harris.

The boost in employee compensation will amount to the “largest raise in Shelby County history.” Moreover, the proposal lifts the minimum wage for county employees to $18 an hour. The current rate is $15. 

“They pour their hearts and souls into the service of this community and Shelby County Government. That’s why we’ve included a six percent raise for employees in both part-time and full-time positions,” said Harris.

The cost of living adjustments are an effort to retain employees. Due to low wages, many employees have left for higher pay on the private market – or other municipalities.

First responders, like Sheriff’s Office employees will also benefit from a raise too. However, workers who have received a raise in the past month are ineligible.

To free up payroll cash, long-vacant positions within the county government were repurposed into funding. It also puts a freeze on new hires.

“We must constrain government growth. That’s why this budget contains no new employees,” said Harris. “This is a time to take care of things we must take care of, but this isn’t a time to grow government. We simply cannot afford it.”

FY 2024’s budget also came in at $1.6 billion. Harris team started with a $60 million deficit before crafting this year’s submission.

This includes a $15 million funding gap in the county’s employee pension fund. This year’s total grew to $101 million from $86 million. Harris chalked the poor performance to the choices of previous decision makers. 

It also absorbs the loss of federal ARPA funding that flowed in during the pandemic years. 

“I really appreciate your finding a way to not have a property tax increase, because we need to retain our current tax base,” said Commissioner Brandon Morrison. “I would just encourage our body to also hold the line there.”

The budget proposal also allows for up to a half-billion dollars investment – over 10 years – to the rebuild of the Regional One hospital campus. The health care facility is the region’s trauma center. It is also the only hospital in the area that accepts uninsured patients. 

A $25 wheel tax was passed in June to cover Phase I of the Regional One project’s $350 million price tag, which also includes funding for two new high schools. The proposed budget also includes funding for the Cordova and Frayser schools. Nevertheless, Harris signaled his intention to find additional money for further school builds.

“Furthermore, our administration has signaled to the school system what we will bring a supplemental to this commission at the end of the calendar year to cover additional capital funding needs. But, before we do that I want to make sure we do everything possible to identify savings.”

To address crime, the administration’s draft invests $2.9 million in the Shelby County District Attorney’s office. It would also provide another $2.3 million to the Juvenile Court, while the Shelby County Public Defender’s office would receive $2.2 million.

The plan also calls for the construction of a mental health facility, to divert mentally ill criminal suspects to proper treatment. To drive down long-term costs, the administration’s budget calls for expansion of the county’s solar-utility facility at its Shelby County Government’s East Campus to fully power the mental health facility. It would also be located at the East Campus.

“The new facility would rapidly divert certain detainees to appropriate trauma-informed mental health care, instead of languishing at 202 Poplar. This makes moral sense, but it also makes financial and common sense,” said Harris.

Following the presentation, commission members requested a hard copy of the plan, which was not offered.

“We don’t know what cuts you’ve made, but we know we’ll hear about them soon. And we’re going to be spinning our wheels not really knowing until we see it,” said Amber Mills.

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