Shelby County is at a crossroads. We can continue doing what we’ve been doing which has led to a crushing county debt, troubled schools, high poverty, sprawling infrastructure, and neighborhoods struggling to maintain their quality of life, or we can look for a new way.
To move Shelby County forward, we need leaders who are more interested in good policy than ideological purity and catchy phrases. We need leaders who are willing to level with us and help us find the solutions that will make our county strong.
We need plan that will look at the challenges facing the whole community. A plan that will bring us together as a community, and actually start addressing the persistent issues that have held us back for far too long.
If we focus on the fundamentals: Economic Growth, Fiscal Responsibility, Education, Neighborhoods, and Quality of Life, we can overcome our challenges and build a strong Shelby County.
Please click the links below for specific statements on these areas of focus.
One of the most important roles of government is providing a framework for local economic growth. Economic growth is more than just courting businesses from out of town. It includes investments in infrastructure, education, and fiscal policies that encourage businesses to come, stay, and become an active participant in the community.
Attracting new business is important because it expands the economic ecosystem of our area, but creating an environment where local businesses grow is equally, if not more important to ensuring the long-term economic growth of our community.
Thousands of locally owned small businesses that provide good jobs for people in our community every day. Nationally, small businesses account for as much as 50% of all the jobs in our economy. Enacting policies to strengthen our local small business leaders is the smart way to grow our economy.
Encouraging entrepreneurship, and providing a framework for our local talent to thrive is more likely to benefit our community with a long-term return on the long-term investments we make. These business owners are invested in the community and are more likely to stay for a lifetime.
This shouldn’t dissuade us from looking for opportunities to bring national and international firms to our area. That’s a part of growth too. However, we must ensure that the return on investment in public funds across all levels of government is there, and the company is committed to becoming an active part of the community to ensure our long-term economic growth is sustainable.
Many of my proposals mirror those in the Greater Memphis Chamber MemphisED plan which was updated in October of 2011.
County government has a responsibility to ensure that tax dollars, whether they be collected locally, or come through state and federal grants, are used to their greatest potential. Fiscal planning should look beyond political cycles and coordinate a comprehensive plan for growth to ensure the sustainability of our county, and ensure taxpayers are receiving the greatest value for their tax dollars.
Unfortunately, this hasn’t happened here. This year Shelby County government will spend over 15% of every tax dollar collected to pay on our over $1.6b debt. Much of this debt is fueled by expansive growth in developed land area without real population growth to ensure we’re getting the maximum return on our infrastructure investment.
Over the past 50 years developed land in Shelby County has more than doubled even though our population has only grown by less than half (627k in 1960 to 927k in 2010). What’s more, much of this outward expansion was subsidized by the County government, which is now suffering as a result.
The expansion of County debt, which was fueled by expansive growth and has resulted in a precipitous drop in population density, is the single greatest contributor to our “highest in the state” property tax rate. Since 1980 the amount we spend on debt service has increased 5 fold, while services to the community have decreased by 40%. Absent this debt scenario, our current county tax rate would be in line with that of other urban counties in the state.
Strong communities plan to grow, and execute that plan over the long term. For Shelby County to regain its strength, we must put forward a plan that ensures we are getting a return on the long-term investments we’ve already made, and those we plan to make in the future.
Education is the cornerstone of our society. None of us would be where we are today without education.
While the County Commission has no authority to enact policy in the school systems, it does approve the school’s budgets. I believe it is critically important that we adequately fund education in our community to ensure our children’s future.
As the child of two lifelong educators, I understand the importance of education and supporting the people who are in the business of educating our children, teachers.
Very little learning gets done without the help of teachers. But teachers aren’t the only people involved in the business of education. It is a community effort, and this is one area that I believe the County government can do better to assist our educational system.
Working with the school administration and key stakeholders to ensure our children not only meet the minimum requirements set by the state and federal government, but also have the support they need to overcome what are all too often dire circumstances, is critical to creating an environment where our children, and their parents, can grow and reach their fullest potential.
Regardless of what happens with the school merger and the potential of municipal school districts, we must recognize that education is a community effort and work together to build ensure our children receive the education they need to succeed throughout their adult lives.
Strengthening Our Neighborhoods
Neighborhoods are the glue that holds our community together. Shelby County is blessed with many strong neighborhoods that are working every day to maintain and enhance their communities. Working to ensure these neighborhoods maintain their character and have a strong voice in their future is critical to ensuring these neighborhoods stay strong in the long run.
We also have many neighborhoods that are suffering from the effects of blight and loose zoning and code enforcement that have caused them to fall into a state of disrepair. These people need to be empowered to take back their neighborhoods from negligent property owners. They need to have a strong voice in the development of their neighborhoods so they can work together to enhance their quality of life.
Back in January I wrote about the struggles these communities face. It is critical that the Shelby County Government take steps to ensure we’re not contributing to the problem. What’s more, we must expand our staff of code enforcement personnel to enforce the laws we have on the books and give people in these neighborhoods the support they deserve to reclaim their standard of living from those who are taking advantage of lax enforcement.
Quality of Life
Shelby County has some of the best public spaces around. From Shelby Farms and the Greenline to the Mississippi Riverfront and everywhere in between. These public spaces enhance our quality of life by providing healthy and safe activities for people from all walks of life. These are the jewels of our community. We should continue working, both through public and private investments, to expand and enhance these amenities for the good of all Shelby Countians.
But enhancing our quality of life isn’t just about parks and trails, it means decreasing the impact of crime in our community, increasing public involvement, and working together to unite our county behind the common cause of opportunity and prosperity for all of us.
Quality of life is the umbrella that covers all of the issues mentioned before and more. In order to increase our quality of life, we have to look at the issues before us differently. These aren’t individual puzzles to be solved, but pieces of the same puzzle that must be put together to make our lives better. Government can’t do this alone, but it can create an environment where it is more possible and encourage people to take an active role in crafting their future.
Over the past 6 years I’ve been closely following the actions of state and local governments. I’ve seen the way they can discourage people from becoming involved in the process. As your Commissioner I will work to ensure that the people have a greater opportunity to be involved in the process, and a greater say in the future of our county. We will succeed if we all work together.