VOL. 127 | NO. 85 | Tuesday, May 01, 2012
Council Takes First Votes on City Budget
By Bill Dries
Memphis City Council members take the first formal votes Tuesday, May 1, on a city budget and tax rate for the fiscal year that begins July 1. But the ordinances on the agenda come with no dollar amounts or tax rate at this point.
Tuesday’s council session begins at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, 125 N. Main St.
The council’s budget committee just began its budget hearings Saturday, April 28, with the hearings continuing Tuesday from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. is proposing a $628 million operating budget with a 47-cent city property tax rate hike. There are no layoffs of city employees in the budget.
But Wharton has said that could change depending on what options the council chooses in setting the budget. Wharton has already outlined two options that could reduce the tax hike he has proposed. Some on the council say they also want to see some cuts in spending by the administration that will reflect significant changes in what services city government offers.
At Saturday’s opening session, city finance director Roland McElrath repeated several times the administration’s call for a tax hike that would be used solely to meet the city’s obligation to fund the Memphis City Schools system for the last year of MCS’ existence. MCS merges with Shelby County Schools in August 2013 into a single countywide public school system.
McElrath told council members again Saturday that the city’s largest financial challenge has been “funding the schools obligation over the last three years without a permanent revenue stream to support that obligation.”
He said paying for the obligation through general fund revenues is an “unsustainable method for funding Memphis City Schools, and that is why we proposed this year that we separate that funding.”
On the council’s agenda for the first of three readings is an ordinance proposed by council member Lee Harris that would fine businesses that block sidewalks and streets.
Harris’ ordinance is a response to the continued blocking of part of Madison Avenue east of Main Street for the demolition of the building at 118 Madison, where the roof collapsed last year. The city recently went to Environmental Court in a long-running dispute in which the city has been unable to clearly identify the property owner.
The ordinance would allow the city to take the appropriate measures to block streets and sidewalks and impose the costs of such work as a lien that could be enforced with a lawsuit. That is the measure Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter took in the specific case of the building at 118 Madison.
Harris’ ordinance gives an owner up to 14 days to “mitigate such a dangerous structure” and then reopen the street and sidewalk. After 14 days, a fine of $200 would be levied each day as a separate offense.
The council will also get its first look Tuesday at a plan by the city of Memphis to buy property in the Overton Square area and lease it to Hattiloo Theatre as part of the area’s redevelopment into a theater district. The council briefing is during a 2:45 p.m. committee session.
The repertory theater company, which is now at 656 Marshall Ave. in the Edge District, has started a capital campaign for the move to the square. There it would join Playhouse on the Square, Circuit Playhouse and Theatreworks.