Reducing the county’s debt has to be our number-one priority. Working with Mayor Wharton, I have supported the county’s Long-Term Debt Reduction Plan. During my first term as Commissioner, the County’s total debt actually fell for the first time in over a decade. We have reduced the county’s debt by over $200 million. However, we still have a long way to go, and we need to continue the Debt Reduction Plan. Part of this involves setting aside funds for capital construction projects so that as much of our construction as possible is done on a “pay as you go” basis. Part of this involves slowing down construction of new schools. The joint county-school systems “Needs Assessment Committee” is a good structural way to keep a close eye on school construction.
Of course, we need to do even more. However, we CANNOT reduce debt by:
However, we CANNOT do this by:
- raising property taxes, which are already too high;
- selling off Shelby Farms (or any portion of it); or
- privatizing our jails. Studies of privatization show that it does not save money in the long run, though it does increase escape rates, make prisoner conditions less humane, trigger costly lawsuits, and eliminate good jobs.
Just before I started as a Commissioner, we had a private accounting firm do a study of county government. It made numerous recommendations for cutting costs and improving efficiency without reducing county services. These recommendations have not yet been fully implemented. We should not consider any significant property tax increase until these cost-cutting recommendations have been implemented.
I will keep an open mind on alternative revenue proposals and work with the new County Mayor and the rest of the Commission to find the right balance, but only after all available cost-cutting measure have been implemented.
As chair of the Legislative Affairs Committee, I led the charge to have the Commission work with our state legislators to implement a seniors property tax freeze which ensured that needy seniors would never see any raise in property taxes.
At the same time, we can’t short shrift the County Health Department. The City of Memphis’ sudden decision to stop funding the health department, like its precipitous decision to stop funding Memphis City Schools, was shortsighted and has caused problems for Shelby County.
Finally, there is some further good news. In April 2010 the Trustee’s Office reported that we are bringing in substantially more tax revenue than projected, because appeals from property reappraisals are going more favorably for the county than anticipated. It is likely that the overage will exceed $30 million. This will help us increase efforts for the Med and other needed services without needing to raise taxes.