MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - This was a message. People in Memphis and the unincorporated areas of Shelby County sent it sledgehammer style. No sales tax increase. Even if the money goes to education, NO SALES TAX INCREASE. “We thought we had a good campaign plan,” says Shelby County Commissioner Mike Ritz, who came up with the sales tax increase plan. “I think we did. But the economy and everything else went against us.”
Supporters gave it the old college try. They told folks that the sales tax money raised would be for Pre-Kindergarten for all Shelby County school children. Too bad some members of the Unified School Board didn’t like that idea. Neither did some of the County Commissioners or Memphis City Council members. Nope, there were so many gaps in that plan that if it were a pair of dentures it would look like David Letterman’s mouth.
So say hello to property tax talk. Nobody will be happy about this, according to Mike Ritz. “Of the six cities in Tennessee that have the highest combined property tax rate,” Ritz says, “five of them are in Shelby County.”
Meanwhile, over at Bartlett City Hall, Mayor Keith McDonald was feeling pretty good. Bartlett is one of six suburbs that approved a sales tax increase in order to pay for their individual school systems. Now that the county tax has failed, the individual suburban sales tax increases will go into effect. “This gives us the flexibility we need as those sales tax numbers change,” Mayor McDonald says. “It gives us the flexibility we need to pay for projects that are both good for the schools and good for the city.”
Bartlett, Arlington, Lakeland, Germantown, Millington and Collierville folks, gather round and listen up. Mike Ritz says what will happen now is if the merged Memphis/Shelby County school system needs money, Shelby County Government will come a tapping at your door. “Any increases we give the schools,” Ritz says, “...no matter what schools they are - one system or seven systems - it’s all going to come from the property tax on everybody in Shelby County. We will tax everybody in Shelby County, suburban or not, if we have to raise one penny for schools.”