The "Consolidation Charter Commission" is starting to meet on a regular basis. The Charter Commission was established by Shelby County and the City of Memphis to develop a Metro Charter for consolidation of Shelby County and Memphis. Meetings are scheduled for January 7, January 21, February 4 and February 18, 2010 and will start at 4:00 p.m. Much of the work will be done by "committees" which will meet on detailed items and report back to the full Commission. I attended the Charter Commission meeting on December 17, 2009 and am reporting on my observations.
Two representatives of the million dollar funded effort of the "Rebuild Government" group were present and discussed their efforts.
It was interesting to note that one of the representatives had worked with Mayor Wharton (who is pushing consolidation) on the "Town Hall Meetings" on consolidation. These were billed as "listening tours", although I don't believe any were held in this part of the County and were not locally publicized.
The other representative served on Mayor Wharton's transition team (to Memphis Mayor).
They did not specifically respond to questions about who is funding the organization and why.
As was widely reported, the Charter Commission voted not to include schools in the discussions, but will include funding for schools. Currently 70% or our property tax goes to Memphis schools and 30% to County schools, which represents the actual school attendance to the two systems. The Memphis City Schools also receives substantially more federal funding.
There was a strong push by the Shelby County Commission to increase taxes for the unincorporated County area and suburban cities while decreasing taxes for Memphis for City schools and other services. Decreasing taxes for incorporated Memphis while increasing taxes for the suburban areas is one of the primary reasons for the push for consolidation by consolidation supporters, so this needs to be closely watched. I expect this is why the companies involved in "Memphis Tomorrow" (www.MemphisTomorrow.org) are pushing consolidation and contributing a lot of money to the consolidation push. I suspect they see a large payoff in the suburbs subsidizing their property taxes after consolidation.
This is what has happened in the Nashville Metro as the "independent cities" in the Nashville Metro property tax is within approximately .57 of the "full service" areas. General Services tax is $3.56, paid by everyone in county. Urban Services tax is $.57 (total of $4.13 rate for residents of central city). Over years, differential between two tax rates has narrowed as “urban” services have been declared “general”.
The Shelby County Attorney advised the Charter Commission that if a "Metropolitan" type of consolidation is selected, the Metro Charter can't abolish the "Constitutional Officers", but the Metro Charter can change their functions (except for functions specified in the Constitution.). This could include changing the duties of the Sheriff to only the jail etc.
Also, of interest to Lakeland residents especially, one "independent city" in the Nashville Metro tried to start a City Police Department, but the Nashville Metro refused to let them start their own Police Department, so obviously a lot of independence is lost in the Metro system! (The Charter could be written so this did not happen.)
It was also noted that the Urban Growth Boundaries Statute does not apply to Metro Charters. The annexation boundaries are decided by the Charter so obviously this is something we need to watch.
The next meeting, January 7, 2010, is a discussion of the Jacksonville's Consolidated Government, by their General Counsel, Rick Mullaney. It was noted that he has acted as a consultant to assist in other "consolidations", so he obviously is a strong proponent of consolidation.
Overall, I feel the Charter Commission Members will listen. We need to make sure we talk to them and convey how you feel about Consolidation and the proposed Consolidation Charter. I encourage Lakeland residents to attend the Charter Commission meetings if possible and if not, call or write the Charter Commission to convey your opinion.