How much can the citizens of Memphis carry?
I talked with Councilman Myron Lowery at a neighborhood community meeting the other day. You know, I don't think there is a single City Council member who attends more community meetings than Lowery.
The Councilman discussed the hullabaloo over the City Schools. He was frank and clear about his position. Bottom line: We can't keep raising property taxes and the City is paying far more than its fair share to the school system.
Nearly a hundred years ago property was seen as the most logical way to collect funds from citizens. It was the core of most people wealth. During the Great Depression property tax sifted away from State and local to only local government as the chief means of funding city government. In the 1930's and 1940's cities were moving away from property tax and more toward user fees as the main source of revenue but by the late 1950's the baby boom left cities needing an increase in funds to cover the growing school system. Property taxes became the savior and city government never looked back.
As property taxes increased the ability to own property in the City decreased. With the loss of property owners the burden fell on those that where left. This continues until you only have City residents that can't afford to leave. The City of Memphis has the highest combined city/county property tax rate in the entire State. We must stop this vicious cycle.
Agree or not you must commend the City Council for taking a stand and trying to deal with the out-of-control property tax that is turning Memphis into a ghost town.
With the Council voting to cut $93 million from the school system we are already seeing some benefits such as libraries and community centers that were on the chopping block are now no longer being considered for closing and the talk of a property tax “DECREASE” is actually being considered. But what about those that state the schools system is just getting by. It should be noted that the MCS is required to have a rainy day fund of $30 million. Well they have that and then some. MCS has over $80 million in reserve dollars.
Councilman Lowery stated that there is no way the State is going to cut over $400 million from the school budget if the City cuts its funding. I agree. If the State cuts these funds it would be tantamount to closing the schools and that is not going to happen.
Basically Memphis has been the sucker in this process. Over the last several decades we have stood alone paying into the system while the other municipalities have paid ZERO.
With over 80 percent of the Memphis public school children coming from low income homes it is clear the resources are not there to continue down this path. We must work to bring businesses and upper income residents back to Memphis. Dealing with our out-of- control property tax is the first step.