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County Commission votes two percent raise for employees

For a brief time on Wednesday, Shelby County had a budget proposal that was balanced. Tri-State Defender Staff Report

For a brief time on Wednesday, Shelby County had a budget proposal that was balanced. However, that was before the Shelby County Commission voted 5-3 in committee to give county employees a two percent pay raise in next year’s budget, an action that is projected to cost more than $4.6 million.

It was not clear how Commissioners intend to pay for the raises.

Earlier in the day, the Commission deadlocked 4-4 on funding for the office of Early Childhood and Youth, which means the office remains unfunded despite an intense lobbying campaign waged by a coalition of community activists and Shelby County Mayor Luttrell.  Luttrell has asked the Commission to reinstate the $417,000 funding for the office, but Wednesday’s vote failed to overturn the decision last week to remove the funding.

Community leaders and grassroots activists vow the lobbying efforts will continue right up to next full meeting of Shelby County Board of Commissioners on June 20, beginning at 1:30 p.m.

“To cut a program like this and then give a pay raise, speaks volumes, and not in a positive way,” said Luttrell.

On June 6, Commission members voted 8-3 to defund the office. Commissioners Henri Brooks, Wyatt Bunker, Mike Ritz, Heidi Shafer, Justin Ford, James Harvey, Chris Thomas, Terry Roland and Sidney Chism voted in favor. Voting against were Commissioners Mike Carpenter, Melvin Burgess, and Walter Bailey.

On Wednesday, voting in favor of restoring the funding were Bailey, Burgess, Harvey and Steve Mulroy. Voting against were Bunker, Roland, Shafer and Thomas. Brooks, Chism and Ford abstained.

Supporters of the office and those lobbying to restore funding include Rep. Steve Cohen who used a letter to ask Commission members to reverse course.

“As a former County Commissioner, I understand that oftentimes the proposals laid before you for consideration may not include details about the possible ramifications that could result upon their implementation. Normally, I do not get involved in County Commission business, but the vote that was cast on Monday to de-fund the OECY is one that, should it be implemented, would result in our county losing out on access to millions of federal dollars,” wrote Cohen.

“By stripping the $450,000 in funding for the OECY, the county will lose approximately $6 million in federal funds for programs that help the neediest among our constituents.”

Why is the OECY needed?

Said Cohen:  “It’s child impact study program is the first – and only – one of its kind in the nation. The OECY’s encouragement of community partnerships is a factor that helps private and non-profit organizations across the county apply for grants from the state and federal governments.”

De-funding, wrote Cohen, “would be a grave mistake.”

During Wednesday’s discussion, Brooks raised concerns about the accountability  of the office, questioned just how effective it is and voiced uneasiness about the makeup of the administrators.

And then there were those, including Roland and Bunker, who indicated their leeriness about social issues being tackled by government.

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