Shelby County Commissioners delay TDZ vote

Shelby County Commissioners delayed voting on whether to support Memphis leaders’ proposal to pay for a Tourism Development Zone Monday.

The sticking point for commissioners is whether the TDZ, to be placed at the city’s fairgrounds, will divert sales tax revenue from Shelby County Schools. That could create more financial troubles for the already cash-strapped district.

Last week, commissioners in the Economic Development and Tourism Committee asked the Tennessee State Building Commission to reject the city’s plan to convert the fairgrounds into a sports and retail complex. The complex would be built with $176 million of public funds to be paid off with bonds over 30 years.   The bonds would be financed by excess sales tax revenue which would traditionally go toward schools.  County officials worry that could amount to $1 to $2 million a year being taken from school funding.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell said legal counsel will study the impacts of the proposal.

Commissioners decided to delay making a final decision until more information could be provided.

“I don’t mind deferring to protect the money of the schools,” Commissioner Mike Ritz said.  “We have seven school systems to fund.  If they want to have a fairgrounds, that’s fine, but leave our tax dollars alone.”

Chairman James Harvey, Sr. said after Monday’s meeting that it was important for the commission to understand all of the particulars involved in the proposal.

“We have to ensure that Shelby County Schools’ financing will not be compromised and that we’re not sacrificing the schools,” Harvey said.

In other actions, the commission also approved a resolution asking Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam to approve state funds to expand  pre-kindergarten.

In November, a referendum failed in Shelby County to increase sales tax to expand pre-kindergarten locally.

Monday’s vote was an attempt to keep pushing the need to offer more early-learning opportunities for at-risk children.

Commissioner Melvin Burgess said during Monday’s meeting that he hopes Shelby County can move forward with more pre-kindergarten classrooms.

“If this happens, I hope it is dispersed with fidelity and before the funds are received that there is a plan,” he said.