Shelby County mayor provides grim budget update as coronavirus takes fiscal toll

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SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — Being prepared for the worst was the message from Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris as he talked about the upcoming 2021 fiscal year budget.

Expected revenue is down millions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our deficit is growing, and I would suggest to you and the members that we need to rejigger how we think about the budget going forward, and our major focus going forward should be to avoid layoffs,” Harris said.

Harris and the county’s director of administration and finance laid out what Shelby County Commissioners should expect in an upcoming budget presentation during a committee meeting online to help with social distancing efforts.

Harris discussed a possible bumpy road ahead.

“As long as the spending continues, we just can’t put our heads in the sand and say there won’t be any layoffs, so we have to acknowledge the reality it will be a very tough budget year,” Harris said.

This slide shown at the meeting shows the $39.4 million budget gap before any expenditure considerations.

Harris’ team expects revenue for the 2021 fiscal year to be down more than $17 million. He went on to say spending wasn’t frozen March 1, and it has continued. 

“Since March 1, we’ve had a number of additional transactions against our budget, which have only ballooned the deficit even more,” Harris said.

That means what can be accomplished in the upcoming fiscal year is narrowed. 

The upcoming budget is expected to have across-the-board reductions with no tax increases.

The official budget presentation will not be until next week.

Commissioners in the committee did send forward a favorable recommendation for a county hiring freeze, except for some jobs like those in the sheriff’s office or other first responders. That still needs to be decided by the full commission. A committee is also being created to figure out long-term budget sustainability solutions.

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