An increase in the Shelby County tax rate meant to offset falling real estate appraisals and help the new unified Shelby County School system failed to pass the commissioners at large during their Monday meeting.
But that doesn’t mean it’s a done deal.
Commissioners will meet again on July 8 for the third and final reading of an ordinance that would increase county taxes from $4.02 to $4.08. Part of that rate will help the school district with an additional $20 million for its 2013-2014 budget deficit.
Commissioner Chairman Mike Ritz, who voted in favor of the tax rate increase, said he isn’t concerned about the failure on second reading.
“I’ve learned not to read too much into the tea leaves of county commissioners’ votes on first and second readings,” said Ritz. “I expect it will pass.”
The vote came down 6-5, with Ritz, Walter Bailey, Henri Brooks, Justin Ford and James Harvey voting in favor. Steve Basar, Wyatt Bunker, Terry Roland, Heidi Shafer and Chris Thomas voted against it.
Sidney Chism, who attended the meeting, was not in the room when the final vote was cast. Melvin Burgess was not able to attend the meeting.
Roland said he hopes the vote fails again on July 8 so that the county will be forced to go back and trim its already approved $1.189 billion budget.
“With appraisals down 5 percent, we need 5 percent more to make the budget revenue neutral,” said Roland. “So why are we raising it 9.9 percent?”
Roland said that in addition to not giving the additional $20 million to help the school district, he believes the county also needs to stop giving what he calls “social services” money to businesses and reduce the number of county-employed attorneys.
“You can’t keep asking ordinary taxpayers to keep footing the bill,” he said. “And every time we have to use an attorney, we have to sub it out to other attorneys. Why keep paying the ones we have on staff?”
And even if Burgess and Chism do vote, Roland said he plans to challenge those votes because of ethics concerns with both commissioners.
While Ritz agrees Chism likely won’t vote, he believes Burgess will vote and doesn’t have an issue with Burgess’ connections to the school district.
“I’ve only heard from one commissioner (Roland) about concerns with Burgess,” said Ritz who also said Burgess was absent because of a previous family obligation.
With both budgets already approved ahead of the July 1 deadline for the fiscal year, Ritz said the county and school district should be able to operate until the tax rate passes. The county has until October to finalize the tax rate issue, if necessary.
However, both Ritz and Roland said that if the vote doesn’t pass in July, commissioners will have to go back and see what else they can trim from their already approved budget.
“We already amend the budget all the time,” said Ritz. “We did so (Monday).”
But Roland said there’s more work to be done, and he’ll be sticking with his “no” vote in July.
“They elected me to lead, not to get along and go along with whatever the other commissioners say,” said Roland.