Shelby County budget talks wrapping up - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Kontji Anthony

Shelby County budget talks wrapping up

After more than a month of painstaking talks, the 2009 budget process in Shelby County is wrapping up.  While the budget is balanced, officials said Tuesday, the process was not as easy as it sounds.

Members of the Shelby County Commission took extreme measures to avoid raising property taxes, officials said Tuesday.

"I think we've got a good balanced budget.  I don't think it's going to require a tax increase," Shelby County CAO Jim Huntzicker said.

To avoid a property tax increase, some major sacrifices are coming.  A county hiring freeze is in effect, and there is now feedback on the county's buyout offer for senior citizen employees.

"We expect to have about 50 people, and hopefully more will take the buyout," Huntzicker said.

The big new twist in the new budget is a proposal to implement a one-year moratorium on new school construction.
"The number of students in Memphis and Shelby County are not changing.  We continue to build schools and our students are just moving from one school system to the next," Commissioner Deidre Malone said.

The Budget and Finance committee held its final meeting Tuesday morning, and will bring recommendations to the full commission Wednesday.  Committee members said the drastic $23 million budget cut just scratched the surface.    

"It's a critical time.  This year it looks like it will be a band aid approach, but next year's budget session will be even tougher," Malone said.

The state of Tennessee and the city of Memphis are also cutting costs, which falls on the county's shoulders, leaving commissioners to figure out what to do after the one-year fix.

"You can't every year withhold salaries from employees," Huntzicker said. "You can't reduce employment for either retirement buyouts or attrition.  There are a lot of things we're going to have to address within the next two to three years."

The full commission may make some amendments Wednesday.  They are worried about grant funding cuts to agencies like Operation Safe Community.

The big vote on the 2009 budget happens next Monday.

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