Shelby County clerk feels blindsided by mayor’s public transit fee proposal

SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — After Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris called for a special fee for people in the county who own three or more cars to fund public transit, one key official said she's been kept out of the loop.

Harris’ proposal to provide funding to the Memphis Area Transit Authority claims that only 17% of county residents would be affected. County Clerk Wanda Halbert said not only was her office not consulted in the decision making, but she also doesn't know where he got those numbers.

“When we have these discussions, we need those offices and those individuals who are responsible for those duties to be at the table to ensure that the numbers are correct," Halbert said. "Right now, we have no idea where the mayor received his numbers from.”

The mayor’s proposal would require residents to pay an extra fee of $145 if they have three or more vehicles.

Harris said the plan would provide $10 million in funding annually to MATA.

The mayor’s spokesperson said his office got those numbers from the United States Census Bureau. That data shows about 17% of county residents have three or more vehicles.

But Halbert still has concerns about those details.

“How do you determine what that fee is going to be and who will be impacted?" Halbert said. "Are you going to give out any type of vouchers? Will there be any discounts? What about students?"

Halbert’s office handles motor vehicle registrations. She said there are more than 600,000 registered vehicles in the county.

Halbert said the proposal took her by surprise. A mayor’s spokesperson said Halbert was notified Thursday — one day after the presentation to the county commission.

“The mayor’s office is claiming they sent some inter-office memo, but there’s nothing in the email," Halbert said. "So, it’s just alarming that communication is critical."

Halbert said her office is understaffed and overworked.  The lines were stretching down the hall in the office Thursday around noon.

“It’s not my business what decisions the mayor makes on behalf of the administration, but again, it’s not the mayor’s business to run this office," she said.

Halbert said she looks forward to discussing the matter with the mayor soon.

The Shelby County mayor’s public information officer Lauren Lee released the following statement Thursday.

"Proper procedure is for a proposal from the Mayor’s Office to be presented first to the Shelby County Commission. That proposal was delivered Wednesday. Thursday morning, I contacted Clerk Halbert to send her the proposal and she declined.”

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