By Katherine Burgess, Memphis Commercial Appeal
A coalition is calling upon the City of Memphis and Shelby County Government to keep their current property tax rates in place — rather than lowered rates due to property reappraisals — and use the extra revenue to fund “a moral budget” including education, transit and mental health.
“We have to do something different,” said Cardell Orrin, director of Stand for Children. “We’ve had the same, whether you make it an economic development policy or government policy for the last 20-30 years at least. We’ve had austerity without real investments and it’s not working. Communities are still impoverished and are not invested in and not growing. We’ve got to take advantage of all the wealth that’s been created by property values going up in particular areas of town and make investments in people that we think can have great benefits in the future.”
The groups include Stand for Children Tennessee, the Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope, the Memphis Tenants Union, Memphis Music Initiative, My Sistah’s House, BLDG Memphis, Homeless Organizing for Power & Equality, Memphis Restaurant Workers United, Memphis For All, Decarcerate Memphis, Collective Blueprint and Whole Child Strategies.
The coalition is asking the county to maintain its current property tax rate of $4.05, over the recertified rate of $3.45. $4.05 would generate more than $100 million in additional revenue over the $3.45 rate.
They are asking the city to maintain the current property tax rate of $3.19. The current proposed rate for the city is $2.71, according to Councilman and Budget Chair Worth Morgan.
“This budget is vital because of the state of our city at this time,” said Samantha Bradshaw, co-chair of MICAH’s economic equity task force. “We need to make sure that we our setting a budget that will be beneficial to all of the citizens and not just a small percentage, roughly 35% of the middle to high income residents of Shelby county. We are one of the poorest areas of the state of Tennessee and its important we look out of the residents of Memphis and Shelby County.”
One of the priorities of the group is that money go towards the “Youth Education Success” fund: $8 million in local funding and $2 million from the American Rescue Plan from the city and $20 million from the county.
“The YES Fund would target critical milestones of childhood development, from early literacy efforts to freshman and postsecondary success,” reads a document from the coalition. “In addition, the YES Fund would increase student mental health resources and reduce chronic absenteeism. Investments in early literacy include a literacy coach in every elementary school as well as greater investments in Response to Intervention programming. High school success initiatives, like freshman success academics and college and career coaches, would be implemented.”
The group also proposes investments in the Memphis Area Transit Authority: $15 million in local funding and $5 million from the American Rescue Plan from the city and $10 million from the county.
“Over the next three years, city and or county funding of MATA must increase from its pre-COVID $30 million from the city to $65 million total local funding (city and/or county) along with anticipated federal funds to fully implement Transit Vision 3.0,” reads a document from the group. “This will result in MATA becoming a more equitable and high performing transit system serving many more citizens.”
Another ask is for an “opportunity youth workforce fund,” which would incentivize employers to create full-time pathways to quality jobs with living wages and would support organizations creating wraparound services for employees. The request for that fund is for $3 million from American Rescue Plan funds from the city and $2.5 million in local funding and $1 million in American Rescue Plan funds from the county.
The various requests are largely initiatives that members of the coalition had already been working on and had expertise in, Orrin said. Some, like the idea for a county coordinator of civic engagement, are newer ideas.
Orrin said that as the city and county consider the ramifications of property reappraisals, it's important to consider who benefits from lowering the tax rate to ensure that local governments don't receive an increase in revenue.
“We haven’t done a good job of digging into who actually pays more taxes and who doesn’t," Orrin said. "We talk about it as we’re trying to keep the tax rate down, but keeping the tax rate down for whom? What does that look like split out across the city and the county? Who benefits and what’s the balance of that?”
This article was originally published by the Commercial Appeal.