coalition of a dozen nonprofit and community organizations are calling for the city and county property tax rates to stay at their current rates to create more funding for public education, public transportation, affordable housing and similar priorities.
“A budget is a moral document because it defines for our communities, our values, our priorities, the things we hold dear,” said Cardell Orrin, the Memphis director of Stand for Children Tennessee.
“We say that we can pay for this with all of the value and wealth that has been created in our community,” he said at a press conference Friday, May 21, in Civic Center Plaza.
The current Shelby County property tax rate is $4.05. The city of Memphis property tax rate is $3.19.
The recertified rate that produces the same amount of revenue for county government based on the new property values is $3.45. The city recertified rate is expected to be $2.75 to $2.80.
If the city council or county commission wants to raise either rate from that basic level, they would have to have a separate tax hike proposal and vote on such a measure.
Orrin called the state requirement “a conservative mandate.”
“We’re just saying recertify it, follow what the state says and adjust it back to the level that we had it at,” he said. “Most of the people in our community that have the greatest need and are seeing the least investment won’t even feel this maintenance of the tax rate because their properties haven’t gone up.”
Shelby County Assessor Melvin Burgess Jr. estimates countywide property values went up an average of 20% in the 2021 reappraisal.
Based on that, the coalition of groups calling for a “moral budget” estimates leaving the city and county property tax rates the same would create an extra $140 million in revenue combined.
The “moral budget” outlined by the groups includes $30 million in additional funding for the Memphis Area Transit Authority — $20 million from the city and $10 million from the county.
“This will result in MATA becoming a more equitable and higher performing transit system serving many more citizens,” said Samantha Bradshaw of MICAH – Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope.
The $30 million is about what MATA would need to carry out a five-year-old “transit vision” plan that would increase the frequency of bus trips and cut one-way trips on most routes to under an hour. Since introduced, the price tag of the plan has increased to $35 million.
Some city council members are expected to propose a more modest several million dollars to increase MATA funding during the city’s ongoing budget season.
Courtney Thomas of BLDG Memphis called for boosting the city’s affordable housing trust fund that took a hit in the pandemic.
“We have to invest in affordable housing,” Thomas said, referring to a housing shortage in affordable single-family rental and apartment units citywide.
The administration of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has touted the creation of more than 5,000 new units of affordable housing created since Strickland took office as mayor in 2016.
Strickland created the trust fund pre-pandemic and has said the city intends to find ways to re-establish the funding.
BLDG, which is a coalition of community development corporations, has called for $11 million in funding for the trust fund and made an appeal for that funding directly to the council this past week.
Other parts of the “moral budget” call for:
- $80 million more in funding for housing and services to those who are homeless.
- Pay raises for all city workers. Strickland has proposed pay raises just for fire and police. But has also proposed one-time bonuses for all city employees.
- $30 million more in funding for public education.
In addition to Stand for Children, BLDG and MICAH, the coalition includes Decarcerate Memphis, Memphis Tenants Union, Memphis Music Initiative, My Sistah’s House, Homeless Organizing for Power & Equality, Memphis Restaurant Workers United, Memphis For All, The Collective Blueprint and Whole Child Strategies.
This article was originally published by The Daily Memphian.