The push and pull of government “reinforces my optimism as well as pessimism,” County Commissioner Heidi Shafer said Tuesday at the Midtown Republican Club meeting.
For example, she discussed TIFs (Tax Increment Financing) which aid redevelopment in Memphis and the EDGE program (Economic Development Growth Engine). Shafer believes the money Memphis raises doesn’t get distributed here by the legislature in Nashville.
“They are skeptical about Memphis because they don’t think we have the income here. But we want business to grow here. We’re going to break down our property tax amounts, which are the largest in the state, and seek that money out so if developers want to do something we can work with them,” Shafer says.
Another issue that she feels strongly about is the property tax rate.
“Memphis is still the biggest taxed city in the state. We (the Commission) drove the property tax down a penny, then got stymied. Because we have the highest rate it’s very hard to compete in keeping residents and growing business. We have 33% more taxes here than in Nashville, but a less qualified work force. We must drive these property taxes down. We must try to find ways to save costs in schools and in other areas so we can drive down the tax rate. Then we can spend it on other projects.”
Shafer says that the county budget has had surpluses in the past two years. “We are anticipating more surpluses and want to put them in an account so they can’t be frittered away.” She says Mayor Luttrell has not helped the Commission with this.
“I am hoping we can change a law in Nashville that if there is a surplus, taxpayers get money back,” Shafer said.
She also warned about the upcoming property tax reappraisals.
Although she feels Assessor Cheyenne Johnson is fair, Shafer told us that the office does a lot of scrutiny on houses. They send people by to check for any additions, can look at aerial views and check out a house that is portrayed in any newspaper or magazine article. That can raise the tax on houses around them.
“If you are not happy with your assessment,” she says, “I would urge you to contest it.” Shafer warns that the city likes to vastly underestimate money that comes in so they can shovel it where they want.
She also criticized the debt repayment schedule, which she says, “is too aggressive. It’s like a homeowner who takes any extra income they have to apply to the mortgage. That’s fine, but when the water heater breaks down, then you don’t have the money to repair it.”
Another example of the kind of government we have that she doesn’t like involved a child recently hit at Richland Elementary. “The parents want a flashing light. There is a disparity about who pays for it and the responsibility gets passed around. We have to fight to get something done. At some point the government has to do something for the people it serves.”
Shafer is term limited on the Commission, so she just has two years left. Although people have asked her to run for County mayor, “I have no desire to do it and be the ribbon cutter in chief.”
Fortunately for Tennesseans, Shafer may be thinking about running for a job in Nashville. Let’s hope she does.