Big changes coming for 2014 Shelby County budget

(WMC-TV) - Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell presented a balanced 2013 budget, but some county leaders believe a financial storm is brewing for 2014.

"I've only got one of these to do and I'm glad it's this year and not next year," said Shelby County Commissioner Brent Taylor.

Taylor's praise of Luttrell's budget was laced with foreboding of what is to come in 2014.

"The reappraisal that's going to result in decreased revenues, plus the unknown of the future of schools, those are big question marks going forward," said Taylor.

A past study by the County Commission's Education Ad Hoc Committee said county property taxes will increase 26 percent when Memphis and Shelby County Schools merge.  That notion has some commissioners hot under the collar.

"I don't care if it means we go broke, I will not vote for a tax increase," said Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland.

The mayor said he will have a clearer picture of what the unified school system would look like when the Transition Planning Commission completes its merger plan in August.

As far as the reappraisals go, Luttrell said the county is faced with an unavoidable reality.  Next year is a reappraisal year, which means the county will face financial difficulties worth pause.

Sixty percent of the county's income depends on how much money is collected from property taxes.  Home values are expected to be lower than the last appraisal.

Luttrell also said escalating healthcare costs for past and present employees will offer a greater challenge in the coming years.

The budget projects employee salaries and fringe benefits to cost $258.6 million in 2013.  The projection spikes to $268 million in 2014.

The administration is considering limitations to benefits, from personal and sick leave to reductions for newly hired employees.

Luttrell said he will look for efficiencies before placing burdens on taxpayers.

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