John Branston’s column in this morning’s Flyer sums it up:
If you drive less than a mile from Southwind High School you can be in Germantown, Memphis, or unincorporated Shelby County (or Mississippi if you drive two miles). The tax rates where you end up vary from $4.06 to $7.22. Same stores, same roads, same public school, same water and sewer, same distance from downtown or the airport.
This is what the would-be architects of consolidated metro government are up against. The numbers are really ugly, and there’s no way to spin it before the vote on November 2nd.
That’s it right there, folks, County residents are getting subsidized by Memphis taxpayers, and they obviously don’t want to give that up, and why WOULD they? Memphis taxpayers desperately need County taxpayers to pay their fair share of the social costs that come with living in a major metropolitan area. Branston has more:
I see two main problems with the comparisons the charter panel is making between Memphis and Nashville and Louisville and Indianapolis and Jacksonville.
One is that those cities consolidated decades ago and their demographics were and are different. Nashville doesn’t have the big differentials in tax rates between its “urban services district” ($4.13) and its general services district ($3.56) that we have between Memphis and, say, Collierville or Germantown or Lakeland. Its tax rate has gone down in the last 40 years because the city is phenomenally prosperous, among other reasons that may include consolidation.
And the fact that Nashville, Indianapolis, etc. have lower tax rates than Memphis and are therefore more attractive to families, mobile job seekers, and businesses begs the comparison between Memphis and its suburbs. Why would you want to live in the Richwood subdivision near Southwind High School, which was annexed by Memphis and pay $7.22, when you could live literally across the street from the high school and pay $4.06? Or in Germantown and pay $5.48?
Or, in the most outrageous inequity of all, in the plush Southwind gated community a mile north of the high school and pay no city taxes because your residents had enough political clout to talk their way out of a half-hearted annexation push in 2006 and forestall the day, supposedly, until 2013? So did Windyke. Under consolidation, annexation would require a yes vote from the majority of residents in the annexation target. I don’t see that happening if Memphis comes courting.
Memphis is being choked to death by its own suburbs, even if the Tiny Towns law was never allowed to go into effect. The insanity of not having a regional group for development (and, frankly, for TAXATION) is destroying the core city of Memphis, without which there is NO economy.
What I fear, instead, is Memphis continuing to lose its tax base not just because Nashville has more appeal and lower taxes but because our own suburbs, incorporated or not, have more appeal, more stores, more work places, more solvable problems, more private and high-performing public schools, AND lower taxes.
I believe in Freakonomics but I don’t see how this flies. The suburban mayors and their residents have been appeased so much that I am not even sure it is a good deal, strictly from a tax perspective, for Memphis residents although I buy the “one voice” argument.
To put it bluntly: Tax freeze? No thanks. I want a tax cut to go with my pay cut, and I want it soon.
Amen, brother, preach it long and preach it loud!