MEMPHIS REFERENDUM

MLGW-related amendment would hurt school funding, says Shelby County Mayor Luttrell.

Mark H. Luttrell Jr., Special to The New Tri-State Defender | 11/7/2016, 12:52 p.m.
MLGW-related amendment would hurt school funding, says Shelby County Mayor Luttrell.

On the November 8 ballot, all Memphians will be presented with a City of Memphis charter amendment, which deals with how Memphis Light, Gas and Water (MLGW) makes payments (in lieu of taxes) to the City and the County. It is a complicated amendment, no doubt.

I urge the voters of Shelby County living in Memphis not to support the amendment as it will negatively impact the citizens of Memphis and Shelby County, specifically by cutting funds that would otherwise support public school budgets.

MLGW does not pay property taxes like private citizens and corporations do. Instead, MLGW make payments in lieu of taxes to the City of Memphis, Shelby County, and the other six municipalities in Shelby County where the properties are located. One hundred percent of MLGW properties and customers are in Shelby County. If MLGW were a private citizen or corporation, it would pay property taxes to both Shelby County and to the City in which they live or in which they operate whether that is Memphis, Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland or Millington.

The City has represented to the public that as a result of the proposed referendum, it will receive an increased share of the payments (in lieu of taxes) from MLGW, an estimated $5,000,000 in increased revenue each year, without impacting MLGW rates. The City also assured the six municipalities in Shelby County that the charter amendment will not impact the payments they receive. This leaves only Shelby County, and the public schools for which it is the sole source of financial support, to bear the estimated $5,000,000 loss each year.

Therefore, if the City’s revenue will increase by $5,000,000, it has to be concluded that Shelby County’s revenue will decrease by that same amount. Shelby County struggles each year to meet the increasing demands of funding public education for the entire County and 50 percent of the MLGW payments (in lieu of taxes) is used to help meet that need. The other 50 percent is used to fund essential public services such as law enforcement, health services and public infrastructure.

It is important to note that citizens of the City of Memphis benefit substantially from the public education portion of the funding since 78 percent of the total goes to Shelby County Schools (predominately Memphis residents) and over 75 percent of the public safety, health and infrastructure expenditures directly benefit the citizens of Memphis. This charter amendment is unfair to the citizens of Memphis, all of whom are also citizens of Shelby County, and it could be especially harmful to the students in the Shelby County Schools and those Memphis residents that rely upon County provided services in the criminal justice system and rely upon the health services of the many health clinics in the city and the Regional One Health facility. Regional One Health (The MED) is the safety net provider of health services for the many uninsured Memphians that rely upon those essential services and County funds provide a substantial subsidy.

For these reasons, I cannot support this charter amendment and urge you to vote “NO” on Election Day or in early voting.