Weekend Report: Florida, Delta, Tennis, Taxes, and Gary Oldman

Posted by John Branston on Sat, Jan 28, 2012 at 1:44 PM

Gary Oldman
  • Gary Oldman
Best line of the day: Wall Street Journal writer Tom Perrotta on Rafael Nadal’s ability to beat everyone except Novak Djokovic: “To lose so often to one player almost defies logic. It’s like Isaac Newton forgetting how to multiply.” After watching Djokovic beat Andy Murray in a little less than five hours, I think pro tennis players are the best-conditioned athletes on the planet. And the pro men and women are coming to the Racquet Club in February, minus the Big Four, but still a great field. This tournament won’t be here forever so go see it.

Lots of Memphis-related business news in the national press today. Delta Air Lines wants to buy US Airways, which would be its first acquisition since buying Northwest Airlines in 2008. US Airways offers a good deal of what little competition Delta has in Memphis.

The Wall Street Journal also has a story about St. Joe Co. scaling back its Florida Panhandle developments near Destin and Panama City, favorite destinations for Memphians. Anyone who has been down there and seen WaterSound at Santa Rosa Beach probably saw this coming. A successor to WaterColor which is a few miles to the west, the development’s empty lots and unoccupied houses in the midst of all that expensive infrastructure says it all. Some of us at Memphis magazine and The Flyer freelanced for a magazine underwritten by Joe, and we miss the assignments and the paychecks. Joe gave the land for the new airport in Panama City and is the largest landowner in northern Florida, with more than half a million acres.

If you're on Facebook prepare to be monetized. The Facebook IPO could come as early as next week. Once it’s priced, ordinary investors can own a piece of the company that boasts more than 800 million members. I predict a “hot” IPO that rises but then tapers off. Over time, I think privacy concerns will wear down Facebook and cut the number of members.

I saw the movie “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” last night on the recommendation of Flyer movie critic Greg Akers. No one in our group of six understood it very well. The next time I watch Gary Oldman will be in “Shaun of the Dead.” “Tinker etc.” should come with an introduction in which the actors tell us their movie names and identities. Or explanatory subtitles in addition to the Russian dialogue subtitles. Better than all those commercials you have to sit through.

To research the schools merger story, I dug out my old tax bills and looked up some old articles to put together this chronology, which I then ran past City Finance Director Roland McElrath to check the numbers. Tax bills should be as clear and easy to understand as restaurant checks.


2007. The Memphis property tax rate is $3.43. There is no breakout for schools on the tax bill.

2008: Mayor Willie Herenton proposes a 58-cent increase, which would push the rate over $4 — one of those milestone numbers, sort of like $4-a-gallon gas. The Memphis City Council cuts school funds from $93.7 million to approximately $27 million, against Herenton’s advice, in an effort to shift school funding to Shelby County. But other city government spending, including a 5-percent pay raise for employees, costs $42 million. The net result is an 18-cent tax decrease to $3.25.

2009: It is a reappraisal year, and there cannot, by law, be a windfall tax increase due to higher valuations, so the tax rate has to be adjusted. The council sets the rate at $3.19. The tax rate includes a breakout of $.1868 for “schools” on the bill. There is talk of a special tax bill for schools in addition to this but it does not happen. In the special election in October, A C Wharton is elected mayor with 60 percent of the vote.

2010: The rate is $3.19. Chancery Court rules against the City of Memphis and determines that the funding cut in 2008-9 is due back to Memphis City Schools. The city appeals (the appeal is still pending).

2011: Mayor Wharton proposes restoration of the 18 cents for schools. In June, the council puts in a “one-time assessment” of 18 cents for schools to be held in a separate bank account until lawsuits resolved. (McElrath said the funds can be used to pay for any education obligation city has, whether 2009 or any current obligation.) There is confusion in the council chambers. Some councilmen believe this amounts to a tax rate increase to $3.37. But the council sets the rate at $3.1889, virtually the same as the previous year, by taking out the .1868 for schools. Tax bills that go out in July include the “one time assessment” of 18 cents for schools and a disclaimer that any additional taxes approved by council will come in a separate bill. However there is, so far, no supplemental tax bill. In October, Wharton wins the mayoral election with 65 percent of the vote and council incumbents are reelected.

City taxes for schools are small compared to county taxes. On the 2011 Shelby County tax bill, of the $4.02 tax rate, $1.30 goes to city schools and 60 cents goes to county schools. The tax impact hits all property owners while the school organization issues mainly impact people with school-age children in or about to be in public schools.

Comments (12)

Showing 1-12 of 12

JBran: reluctant as I am to disagree with you, I think pro tennis players don't hold a candle for conditioning to, say, pro marathoners, triathletes or cyclists in the pro (e.g., Tour de France) peloton.

As for Fuckbook and Twaddle, here's just one more (recent) reason to run from them, as far and as fast as one can: http://www.pcworld.com/article/248908/fbi_…

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Posted by M_Awesomeberg on 01/28/2012 at 11:35 PM

MA: Aussie Final, 5 hours 53 minutes, mental and physical test.

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Posted by John Branston on 01/29/2012 at 9:46 AM

It's called "paying attention" and "willing suspension of disbelief" and also, "going with the flow" and "letting it sink in." This in reference to your "Tinker, Tailor..." commentary.

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Posted by saispas on 01/29/2012 at 12:11 PM

Bravo, Djokovic and Nadal. Epic match, by all accounts. Nevertheless:

Iron Man (Hawaiian) Triathlon: 8+ hours of grueling, non-stop (no changeover rest breaks) in unrelentingly hot, humid, sun-baked conditions (no climate controlled environments for these folks);

Stage 14 of the '11 TDF: 106 miles in the Pyrenees, capped by a 10 mile, 7.9% ascent to Plateau de Beille; 3 days later: 124 miles (7 hours) in the Alps, with no fewer than three mountaintop "cols" (including the infamous Col Agnel---at 2,700 meters, the highest finish for a TDF stage, ever), and two climbs up the equally infamous---2,600 meter---Col du Galibier

Bottom line: no contest.

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Posted by M_Awesomeberg on 01/29/2012 at 12:43 PM


It is much more boring than the other topics you wrote about, but I can't let the very misleading way that the county trustee reports the school portion of the county tax rate go by without a comment. The late Bob Patterson started reporting that breakdown of the tax rate between city and county schools and I could never understand why he did it. The figures, which reflect the estimated average daily attendance ratio between the school systems for the coming year, are technically accurate but are misleading.
The breakdown has always led property taxpayers in both the city and county to believe they are paying a large share of the costs of each others school systems. One set of taxpayers has been paying a share of the costs of the other taxpayers' system but those figures on the county tax bills do not tell you which.
Here are couple of hints on who is subsidizing whom. In ruling in the late 1990s that Memphis voters could not participate in Shelby County school board elections, the federal courts held that Memphis taxpayers were not supporting county schools financially. (This ruling may loom large as proposed suburban municipal school districts move to acquire the school buildings within their boundaries.)
And if Memphis taxpayers were providing a subsidy for schools in the county outside of the city -- instead of vice versa -- there would have been no move to surrender the city school system's charter. Formation of a special district in the county outside of Memphis would have ended that Memphis subsidy had it existed.
A major thrust for the charter surrender vote on the city school board was that a board majority feared that schools within Memphis would lose the financial subsidy from taxpayers outside the city if the county system became a special school district.
Now that the charter has been surrendered, the subsidy is locked in regardless of whether municipal districts are formed.

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Posted by jcov40 on 01/29/2012 at 3:27 PM

jcov40,
Do you remember the style of the case you referred to?

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Posted by Drift Boat on 01/29/2012 at 8:27 PM

No, I am afraid I don't remember the style of the case. It was filed by the Shelby County Board of Commissioners. The State of Tennessee or some branch of state government, possibly the state department of education or the Tennessee attorney general, would have been the defendant. Tennessee law requires all county school boards to be elected from districts that cover an entire county. However, the federal courts held that approach would be a violation of the the one person, one vote rights of the voters in the county outside Memphis. There was a similar case in Coffee County, TN except in that situation the federal courts ruled that the school board should be elected countywide since taxpayers in whatever city or cities were involved did have a substantial financial interest in the school system.

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Posted by jcov40 on 01/29/2012 at 11:09 PM

I found the court ruling online. Here is the link to it:

http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appell…

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Posted by jcov40 on 01/29/2012 at 11:30 PM

jcov40,
Thank you very much for the case. That is the first clear, and cogent explanation of school funding in Memphis and Shelby county that I have seen yet. That was back in the 1990's but I doubt the funding ratio has changed much since then. If anything, the areas of the county outside the city of Memphis probably pay a bigger portion of the funding for Memphis schools than they did then, especially in light of the statement made by Mayor Wharton at his state of the city address. Funding was only one of several considerations looked at by the court, but an important one for sure. Thanks again, and I would strongly recommend reading this case to anyone interested in Shelby County schools.
Drift Boat

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Posted by Drift Boat on 01/30/2012 at 7:26 AM

The last figures I saw do show that the the amount of property tax funds flowing from taxpayers outside Memphis to schools within the city has increased. I don't believe the court ruling mentions anything about school buildings and county debt costs. However, county bonds for school construction are for the most part divided by ada just like operating funds except for Arlington High and the rural school bonds. And county payments for debt service do not include any local sales tax revenue. For 2011, I checked the assessed value of locally assessed property for Memphis and the county outside the city and came up with this ratio: 61 percent in Memphis and 39 percent in the county outside. According to the county trustee the official ada breakdown last year was 69.06 city schools and 30.94 county schools or basically 69-31. The imbalance in these two ratios is what results in property taxpayers in the county outside the city providing what is in effect a subsidy for schools within Memphis. Unless there is going to be a major cutback in funding for schools within Memphis when the $60 million to $70 million in Memphis funding goes away, it appears there will have to be a 40-cent to 60-cent increase in the county property tax rate for schools. That would not only make up for the loss of city funding, it would also provide a lot of new money to equalize programs in schools outside Memphis with those in Memphis. This would occur regardless of whether schools outside Memphis are in a merged system or new municipal districts. The potential major increase in county property tax funding for schools is the really big cost related to schools that residents outside Memphis face and not the equivalent of 15-cents on the municipal property tax rates that the state requires for establishing a municipal school district.

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Posted by jcov40 on 01/30/2012 at 11:49 AM

I don't even understand why we should pay anything at all to the city when we live in the county- such as Arlington where I live. There is zero chance my kids would attend a city school when Arlington High is right there.

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Posted by dixiepixie on 01/30/2012 at 12:48 PM

dixiepixie, everyone in Shelby lives in the county. Some of us also live in a city within the county, like you, in Arlington.
As to paying anything to "the city" (I assume you mean Memphis), any theoretical payment would not be to "the city" but to SCS(new). However, Arlington HS is in a special situation due to the rural schools bonds issued.

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Posted by Packrat on 01/30/2012 at 1:25 PM
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