Asked by the Kiwanis Club to speak on the "State of the County," Shelby County Mayor Mark H. Luttrell Jr. vowed not to " sugar coat things."
"We have serious issues that are facing our county," said Luttrell, speaking Wednesday at the University Club on Central at Lamar. "Issues that require aggressive leadership and collaboration – issues like education, crime, blight, access to healthcare, juvenile court reform, government inefficiencies, and lack of job growth.
"If we bring the right people to the table, have candid discussions, and educate the public, I believe we can overcome these challenges."
With a nod to his administration for having "made some serious headway," Luttrell declared that "some incredibly exciting things" were in store.
Then he maneuvered through the lunchtime address, touching on economic development, fiscal responsibility, culture, investing in young people, neighborhoods and "going forward."
His points included:
• Shelby County has experienced "a great loss" of private sector jobs over the last 5 years. Out-migration of people annually has resulted in reduced net income and dollars that would be spent in the local economy.
• Significant accomplishments include the Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE), which has assisted 11 companies in communities across Shelby County with growth plans totaling 2,470 jobs, $301 million in associated payroll and $653 million in new taxable investment.
• In addition to the revitalization of the Memphis Fast Forward plan, the Workforce Investment Network has experienced one of its most productive years in recent history.
• Shelby County has a thriving entrepreneurial community, with organizations like Seed Hatchery, Launch Your City and Emerge Memphis that put applicants through entrepreneurial boot camp then connect them with venture funders.
• On Feb. 10th, The Memphis Cook Convention Center will host the "largest ever" start-up conference, with start-up companies and venture funders.
• EDGE and chamber officials are continuing to recruit businesses such as Mitsubishi Electric and Electrolux.
• Continued county government support for small, minority and women-owned businesses by ensuring access and opportunities to compete for contracts on "some of our most significant projects."
• Across the county, "we are finding that applicants are not meeting the minimum employment requirements. This has caused a great deal of discussion surrounding job readiness initiatives."
• In an effort to create a single voice on the state level, "we successfully managed to have every single municipal chamber sign a Memorandum of Understanding so that our individual visions can be aligned for the greater good of Shelby County."
• With Gov. Haslam's administration placing added emphasis on workforce investment, "We intend to leverage that emphasis by cultivating collaboration and engagement between industry, government, and the citizens that they serve."
• The financial management of the County is solid despite increasingly complicated demands.
• As the City of Memphis continues to trim services and budget burdens, "we too must look at services that no longer need to be under the umbrella of county government."
• His administration has been shrinking county government. "From FY 10 to FY 13, we reduced general 188 full-time general fund positions, which equates to a spending reduction of $11.7 million."
• With the two school districts combining this fiscal year, "we stand to lose about $68 million in funding from the City of Memphis. Combined, the schools systems budgeted expenditures are expected to exceed revenue in fiscal 2013 by $36 million."
• The County Sheriff has determined that the impact to his budget will be $4.2 million if the city follows through and stops providing in-kind security after the merger.
• Realistically ... we have to expect the school budget to reflect a deficit. The County will have to consider funding that deficit."
• "We need to require the schools to try to be as efficient as possible. However, we must put the children first.... There is nothing more important than educating all children in Shelby County...if we don't, we will regret it 18 years later, for sure."
• An overarching agreement with the Department of Justice to reinstitute public defenders in Shelby County Juvenile Courts will cost the County an estimated $4.5 - $6.5 million annually.
• Property taxes for the current year are expected to be just under $700 million, which is 60 percent of total County revenue. "We cannot legally reduce funding to education and debt service must be funded. We will need to look at every opportunity to increase revenue and reduce costs.
• "We need to move towards investing in the community preemptively."
• The Office of Sustainability has funding to be used to increase resources for recycling, energy efficient upgrades on buildings, and building a network of greenways, parks and open spaces.
• Working to create a culture of healthiness in Shelby County includes engaging senior level leadership to be champions for healthier lifestyles and making employees aware of their personal health issues.
• The Healthy Shelby countywide initiative is focused on addressing infant mortality, acute illnesses, and end of life care. "For the first time in a long time, we've made significant progress in our infant mortality rate."
Investing in young people
• Memphis and Shelby County Achieves provides last dollar scholarships for high school students. In its first year (2012), the scholarship was offered to 359 seniors. This year, there already are 3,094 total applicants.
• The Young Professionals Advisory Council meets regularly to discuss important topics and to develop strategies for recruiting, retaining, and developing young people.
• Shelby County, Memphis specifically, is seriously challenged by issues of vacant properties and blight. The Public Affairs Office assists citizens in establishing neighborhood associations and then holds monthly neighborhood partnership meetings to address concerns and provide raining opportunities.
• The settlement last year with Wells Fargo resulted in millions of dollars for citizens to apply for down payment assistance to buy a home. Shelby County leveraged $600,000 and put it to work in the homes of "the socio-economically disadvantaged to keep people in their homes." In a partnership with the Memphis Area Association of Governments, "a large portion of our elderly applicants" were directed towards a $75,000 fund for similar purposes.
• Funds from Luttrell's Charitable Golf Tournament were donated to Northaven Elementary, "an area that we've worked hard to improve."
• The Mayor's Action Center is developing a rapid response system.
• Initiatives such as "Meet the Mayor" are helping to restore faith in government.
"In order for our government to create a legacy, we have to stay engaged with the living, breathing communities within the County," said Luttrell.
"We need citizens to mobilize, voice their opinions, and come to the table. We need ambassadors for County Government who are educated and can speak on the issues. Please, let us know what we are doing right – and what we can do better."