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Shelby County leaders struggle to find ways to balance the upcoming budget

“There’s basically property tax increases - or making cuts and layoffs," said one county leader.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Poverty can strangle a city. It can also force reality down the throats of dreamers, and those with big plans. Poverty in Memphis cripples lives.

It’s one reason why Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner voted in favor of raising the wheel tax by $16.50. It is an alternative, he says, to layoffs of 140 county workers.

“We’re having to make significant calls as it relates to the budget,” he says, “... and I felt that I would rather not have people lose their jobs.”

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris says there’s a problem. A big one. The law says there must be a balanced budget, and right now, they’re at least $10 million in the red.

“Maybe we can make cuts to where we don’t have any layoffs,” Turner said. “I think we can potentially get there once we really scrub the budget and get a good look at what we have.”

Commission Chairman Mark Billingsley says the wheel tax is one of the most hated taxes in Shelby County. He voted against raising it, just like the overwhelming numbers of others.

“I know Mayor Harris does not want to do layoffs,” Billingsley said. “But you know, when we approached elected officials some weeks back about cutting their spending in the last three months of the fiscal year, no one was raising their hands to cut expenditures.”

Billingsley says there are only a few options left, and none of them are that good.

“There’s basically property tax increases - or making cuts and layoffs. And I don’t see any affinity to raising property taxes, so I think the Mayor’s choices are limited.”

Commissioners will meet with the Mayor Friday. A new BALANCED budget must be completed by July 1st, the start of the new fiscal year.

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