VOL. 128 | NO. 228 | Thursday, November 21, 2013
Council OKs Crosstown, Debates Schools Lawsuit
By Bill Dries
Memphis City Council members approved the Crosstown planned development Tuesday, Nov. 19, marking the latest move through local government for the $180 million project with construction scheduled to begin late this year or early next year.
The Memphis City Council has given approval to the Crosstown planned development.
(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)
The council also approved a 2.13 percent hike in Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division water rates that take effect with January meter readings.
MLGW president Jerry Collins said it amounts to 31 cents more a month on the utility bill of the average residential customer in Memphis.
Last year, the utility sought a 5 percent water rate increase and it was voted down by the council.
Collins said the water rate hike approved Tuesday by the council is to meet an additional $1.7 million in expenses in the water division and avoid having two consecutive years of negative net income in the division. The water division is forecast to end the current year with $500,000 of positive net income.
State laws allow the state to set utility rates for a utility after two consecutive years of negative net income and Collins said those Tennessee cities in which the state has intervened have seen rate hikes by the state that were higher than what the utilities involved had contemplated.
In committee sessions Tuesday, council members talked over but delayed action on a resolution by council member Lee Harris that would “halt further spending” on legal fees by the council in the federal lawsuit over the reformation of public education in Shelby County.
The council discussion came just hours before the Shelby County Schools board approved an agreement with Lakeland and Arlington leaders on the issue of suburban school districts that include an end to the lawsuit.
“Without a resolution and vote by this body, the litigation never ends,” said Harris who is a professor at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. “There is no way for these types of litigations, from Beale Street to all of the others running long-term litigation we are in, to come to a halt without some sort of vote from this body.”
But council attorney Allan Wade, who has represented the council in the multisided and multipart lawsuit that hits the three-year mark in February, said what the city has paid in legal fees on the case compared to the other sides is “like a gnat to an elephant.”
“We have been in the background. We have been consulted,” Wade said. “We are at the table and I think that’s where we need to be.”
Harris argued the city’s objective in the lawsuit is “unclear.”
“The issue is they need to pay their way,” Wade said, referring to the suburban towns and cities. “They need to pay their way in a way that doesn’t adversely impact the city’s citizens.”
The council also delayed action Tuesday on third and final reading of an ordinance that would create a retirement supplement for sanitation workers. The council is now scheduled to vote on the ordinance at its Dec. 3 meeting.
That is when the council is scheduled to vote on a plan to overhaul city sanitation services. The plan, agreed to by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union that represents sanitation workers, would lead to savings that would fund the supplement.
The council delayed action on the plan earlier this year saying it wanted to vote on the overhaul of sanitation services and the supplement as it also heard Wharton’s highly anticipated proposal to fund more of the city’s unfunded pension liability.
Wharton contends the supplement is not a pension. Some council member disagree.
The council also delayed voting Tuesday on a proposal by Harris for $300,000 in city funding for a set of concrete pads Downtown for trash compactors several Downtown businesses plan to buy to stop using dumpsters. The item goes back on the council agenda for the Jan. 21 council session.
Meanwhile, the council approved on the first of three readings a connected ordinance that would drop the monthly dumpster fee on Downtown and Medical Center businesses with dumpsters in public right of ways from $500 to $200.
The council also approved selling the old Highland Branch library, 460 S. Highland St., to the University of Memphis for $475,000, which was its approximate appraised value.
The university plans to use the old library as part of its larger plan for reorienting the campus entrance to a western border on Highland.