SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. (WMC) - The coronavirus pandemic is forcing Shelby County leaders to make some tough choices about the county budget.
On Monday, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris will present his budget proposal to the Shelby County Commission. He warns that without spending cuts, layoffs are possible.
Harris' administration says the county is nearly $40 million in the red for next year's budget.
In addition, they project a $17 million loss in revenue, with the biggest portion of that loss in property tax collection and underpayments, a result of people losing their jobs because of COVID-19.
“Because we weren’t able to freeze spending as of March 1, spending has continued since then,” said Harris.
The mayor says that continued spending is putting more pressure on next year's budget and he says without cuts, layoffs could become necessary.
"We have to make sure that the commission and the public have notice that there is a real possibility that there will be layoffs," said Harris. "We do not know a path forward that does not have layoffs right now."
Harris asked the county's other elected leaders to trim their budgets by at least two percent for the next three months, but they rejected that idea and the proposal failed to pass the commission.
However, in an op-ed WMC Action News 5 obtained an advanced copy of, Shelby County Assessor of Property Melvin Burgess urged all county officials to work together to find a solution.
"Needless to say, I do not find sweeping cuts in governmental budgets preferable or attractive; nevertheless, they are necessary," Burgess wrote. "I call upon my fellow officials to work with the Mayor and the Commission within reason and let's all get through these trying times."
However, he also urged Mayor Harris to spend time with each elected official to learn what they truly need to do their jobs without diminishing the quality of services they provide.
"This synergy and political cooperation is the Mayor's challenge. Having served as a local legislator and now Assessor of Property, I understand this challenge from various angles. Thus, I am stepping forward to offer my leadership and lend my voice to calm fray and confusion; calling for all County Government officials to join me in supporting the efforts of Mayor Harris and the Commission," said Burgess.
In addition to Harris presenting his budget proposal Monday, commissioners are also expected to vote on a plan by Commissioner Mick Wright.
Wright’s plan includes a hiring and spending freeze but exempts critical agencies like the health department, sheriff’s office, EMS and the division of community services.