City Council to Consider Sales Tax Hike Repercussions

By Bill Dries

As voters go to the polls Tuesday, Memphis City Council members and Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. will be discussing the sales tax increase on the ballot.

Wharton has requested a legal opinion from the City Attorney’s office on whether the tax can be “recalled” if it is approved by the voters but the money designated for education is not used to fund pre-kindergarten programs.

The council will discuss the sales tax hike contingencies at a 10 a.m. committee session.

The full council meets at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, 125 N. Main St.

By state law, half of the revenue raised by the half-cent sales tax hike must go to education. Wharton and City Council member Shea Flinn originally opposed the countywide tax hike. But they became proponents on it in early October with the understanding that the $30 million in revenue for education would be used specifically to expand pre-kindergarten programs to reach all children in Shelby County.

But since they switched positions, there has been no specific commitment by the countywide school board to use the money for that purpose. And a private foundation or donor willing to match the tax revenue amount for education on the condition that the public and private money is used for universal pre-k has not materialized.

Wharton said at the Oct. 1 press conference that he would not make the first speech in support of a sales tax hike until there was a solid commitment to universal pre-k. Wharton was to make his first speech in support of the sales tax hike Monday afternoon.

An expansion of pre-kindergarten has been mentioned prominently in the vigorous direct mail and television ad campaign in favor of the sales tax hike conducted by the organization Stand For Children. But the literature doesn’t specifically say that is what the $30 million will be used for.

Countywide school board members passed a resolution last week endorsing the ballot proposal. But the resolution also did not commit to using the education tax revenues for pre-kindergarten programs.

Meanwhile, the council votes Tuesday on the first of three readings of an ordinance that would establish a registry of all transferred properties in the city with an annual registration fee of $200 per property to be paid by the mortgagee or his or her agent.

The registry is part of an anti-blight effort by the city to find the owners of abandoned and neglected properties with less trouble.

It is for all property that has been “the subject of a foreclosure sale where the title was transferred by the mortgagee or its agent or when any property is transferred under a deed in lieu of foreclosure/sale, or quit claim deed, or by transfer, whether filed with the register of deeds or not and upon transfer of ownership upon death of a prior owner.”

Any change in that status must be reported within 10 days.

The ordinance also includes a default registry requiring information on a mortgagee or agent for the mortgagee who can be contacted by the city on a notice of default or vacancy.

Violating the ordinance comes with a $500 fine and revenue from the fines and fees goes to the city office of code enforcement for anti-blight efforts.

Up for third and final reading is the ordinance that would allow businesses with off-premise beer permits to hold beer tastings on their property.

And the council is scheduled to vote on a resolution that would recommend the Land Use Control Board accept a plan for the redevelopment of the Vance Avenue area south of Downtown that includes keeping the Foote Homes public housing development.

Council members will also consider a resolution to close the Whitehaven city golf course for the winter only.

Earlier in the day, at a 10:30 a.m. committee session, council members will discuss golf fees for non-residents. Such a fee is part of the resolution the council votes on at the 3:30 p.m. session along with upping golf cart rental fees.

And at an 11:30 a.m. committee session, council members will discuss an audit of city golf course finances.

Some on the council question a jump in revenue at the Whitehaven golf course from one fiscal year to another.

That jump is what prompted the administration to attempt to change the council- approved plans to close that golf course. Instead the administration wants to close the Davy Crockett golf course in Frayser.