For years, our local officials have taken an austere approach to funding our city and county governments resulting in a lack of investment in desperately needed areas such as education, transit, and neighborhoods. The COVID-19 pandemic shines a light on the challenges of our community that have suffered from severe underfunding, in addition to the virus specific issues that must be addressed. COVID-19 has produced a financial strain on the Shelby County budget, presenting the possibility of cuts that could drastically affect the educational future of students in Memphis and Shelby County, as well as resulting in a loss of up to 150 jobs from County staff, slashing of significant benefits, and other service cuts.
Every day, County workers subject themselves to the possibility of being infected with COVID-19, working in identified pandemic hot spots and environments where proper sanitation isn't necessarily a priority. These workers, who could easily be a loved one in your family, may not receive the pay, protective equipment, or healthcare they deserve. As one Commissioner proposed, some may be furloughed or lose parental leave.
Raising new revenue like the Vehicle Registration Fee, as proposed by Mayor Harris, to $16.50 would assist in stabilizing the budget to ensure that the funds for education continue for our children and that benefits for County front-line workers remain available. The Vehicle Registration Fee has not been raised in 20 years, and even keeping up with inflation would anticipate it being $22 more. In post-COVID-19 times, this would also ensure additional funds are available for investments in education and transit.
Whether the Commission takes this route or not, we ask that the Shelby County Commissioners present another alternative budget that will put people first and will restore the County budget in a way that will be equitable for all. County residents and workers should not be held accountable for COVID-19's impact on the Shelby County budget nor the havoc it has caused in students' and teachers' lives.
If you agree that Shelby County Mayor, along with the Shelby County Commissioners should put people first, take action by signing this letter to show your support for a moral and equitable 2020-21 Shelby County Budget. If you haven't already, check out this op-ed for more information on why the Commissioners and Mayor need to raise new revenue now!