Shelby County Commission delays passing budget after tense discussions

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Shelby County Commission Chair Mark Billingsley decided to host the commission meeting in-person Wednesday at the Peabody Hotel in the grand ballroom because previous online meetings had failed to bring leaders to a consensus.

“There was no other place to meet safely, and also the Peabody was extremely kind to rent this room for almost nothing,” he said. “There’s something lost online, so today is honestly my final attempt.”

Commissioners, staff and onlookers sat along tables with seats spaced six feet apart.

Billingsley said he hoped to finalize budget decisions by the end of the day.

The task proved difficult due to the county’s chief financial officer’s prediction of a $16 million shortfall. That’s why Mayor Lee Harris proposed a budget getting rid of about $14 million.

“It already included some level of cuts, but cuts we thought were manageable,” Harris said. “But at this point, they are cutting not to the bone but to the marrow.”

Harris used strong language to talk about commissioners’ proposed alternatives, which he said put social programs and jobs at risk. But commissioners did not see a way to avoid cuts.

“You have to really be honest, and typically cuts mean your staff,” Billingsley said.

At the end of the meeting, commissioners went through line items, including furniture funding, and the CFO said they got the shortfall down to $7 million.

Commission is set to discuss the budget again next Wednesday.

They have to finalize plans by the end of June.

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