By Jimmie Covington

Shelby County had a better than usual growth in its property tax base this year, according to assessed value figures reported by Property Assessor Melvin Burgess’ office.

The certified tax roll figures sent by the Assessor’s Office to county government, cities and towns on April 20 show a $209.7 million countywide assessed value increase from 2018, the largest non-reappraisal year increase since sometime before 2010.

Governments apply their property tax rates to each $100 of assessed value to bring in property tax revenue.

The countywide increase in 2017, a reappraisal year, was almost $2.1 billion. That value growth was accompanied by a reduction in tax rates designed to prevent the governments from receiving a windfall in revenue from the higher values put on properties by the once-every-four-years reappraisal.

Values Moving Up

Memphis and Shelby County governments last year reduced the city and county tax rates again for the current fiscal year because they had set their reappraisal appeals allowances too high. If they had kept the 2017 tax rates, they would have had to notify the public that a tax increase had occurred.

The reappraisal tax rate requirements affected the suburban municipalities in various ways.

The countywide assessed value increases in recent years before this year were: 2018 – $27,038,220; 2016 – $147,961,275; 2015 – 46,113,405.

The values were down in 2014 for the second year in a row. The 2013 reappraisal is the only reappraisal so far in the county’s history to reflect a decline in values. The 2013 drop was attributed to the housing bust and economic recession that had occurred a few years earlier.

Values Up And Still Budget Problems?

All of the figures in this story are the numbers prior to appeals to the county Board of Equalization. Appeals after reappraisals have a major impact. The impact in non-reappraisal years is generally not substantial.

News stories about this year’s county budget proposal have said that flat or over-projected revenues have resulted in a tight budget.

Just what are the reasons behind the county’s budget situation?  They are not clear.

There is one thing that does seem clear. After most if not all of the property reappraisals before the 2017 reappraisal, an analysis of the numbers shows that Shelby County and Memphis governments were able to gain “secret” or “hidden” property tax increases.

Many officials will deny this and it is too complicated to try to explain here.

Wanted: Media Coverage

Because of the handling of the 2017 reappraisal appeals in a timely manner, officials of both governments last year had to declare further cuts in the property tax rates or inform the public that the governments had gained a tax increase by setting appeals allowances too high.

The Memphis news media did an extremely poor job of reporting the fiscal 2019 county budget and tax rate adopted last year. The Daily Memphian was not in operation but the Memphis Daily News was handling the news function that shifted over to the Memphian in a greatly expanded operation.

The administration of  then county mayor Mark Luttrell recommended a seven-cent cut in the portion of the county tax rate that was going to debt service, a five-cent cut in the schools’ tax rate and a six-cent increase for general county government headed by the mayor and other elected administrators.

Overall, the county tax rate was reduced from $4.11 per each $100 of assessed value to $4.05. (One cent from the debt service cut was added to the five cents cut for schools to produce the six-cent overall rate cut. Some of the media have continued to report incorrectly that the tax rate was cut only one cent.)

These changes were approved by county commissioners who were in office at the time.

The city’s major news media apparently made no effort to report the details of the changes.  No reports were made on the possible implications of the changes.

It is likely that much of the county’s current budget situation stems from those election year budget and tax rate manipulations. Some of it also could stem from the newness of county Mayor Lee Harris’ administration in office and the lack of experience in county government on the part of his appointees.

The Tale of the Tape

Shelby County Assessed Values

Places                                    2018                          2019                              Difference

Shelby County (all)  $18,990,432,495         $19,200,201,477           +$209,768,982

Arlington                  $349,940,230                     $360,647,500             +$10,707,270

Bartlett                     $1,317,071,725               $1,361,351,590             +$44,279,865

Collierville                  $1,757,683,475             $1,774.262,475             +$16.579,000

Germantown            $1,654,177,850              $1,661,854,235               +$7,676,385

Lakeland                     $353,433,080                   $360,217,580                +$6,784,500

Memphis                    $11,460,746,695            $11,558,076,362        +$97,329,667

Millington                   $195,127,695                     $194,819,615               -$308,080

Unincorp.                   $1,902,251,745                $1,928,972,120        +$26,720,275

Source: Shelby County Property Assessor’s Office   

This post is written by Jimmie Covington, veteran Memphis reporter with lengthy experience covering governmental, school, and demographic issues. He is a contributing writer with The Best Times, a monthly news magazine for active people 50 and older, where this article appears in this month’s issue. .  


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