Shelby County Commission dips into rainy day fund to cover coronavirus cuts

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SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — COVID-19 has left Shelby County facing the same problem as many of its residents: not having enough money at the end of the month.

The coronavirus quarantine put the squeeze on county tax revenue, and the county commission decided Monday night it was time to dig into the rainy day fund.

“With COVID-19 and the pandemic crisis, it’s not raining, we’re having a thunderstorm,” county commissioner Van Turner said. “I mean, it’s raining cats and dogs. We have a typhoon.”

In a nearly 10-hour online marathon session, the county commission was facing some challenging choices to either cut services, lay off county employees, raise taxes or dip into a rainy day fund that has $87 million available for a time of crisis.

“And to terminate someone’s employment or cut out an essential service during this pandemic crisis to me would be unconscionable,” Turner said.

Unlike most people, the county has the luxury of having a checking account with a lot of zeros: $436,000,000. From that pile of cash, they’d set aside more than $87 million for a rainy day.

“So if, for instance, we have to go further into the rainy day fund to shore up any of those programs or to prevent any of those consequences from occurring,” Turner said. “I’m willing to do so because I think in the long run, that’s what the money is there for. This is for use in emergencies, and this is an emergency.”

The county is in no way going on spending spree. It’s pulling out $9.5 million to fill the budget gap.

Most of the departments will still be belt-tightening, but for the most part, it appears the immediate crisis has been averted.

“You know, with most budget processes, it’s a compromise, no one gets exactly what they wanted, but hopefully we were able to give everyone what they needed,” Turner said.

The commission passed the budget by a vote of 12-1. Commissioner Brandon Morrison voted “no.”

The plan now goes to Mayor Lee Harris, and he can either sign or veto it.

Commissioner Turner said if the mayor needs more flexibility and more money to avoid essential cuts, he indicated the board would be willing to listen. There’s still more than $82 million in the rainy day fund in the event of another financial tsunami.

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