VOL. 126 | NO. 107 | Thursday, June 2, 2011
Council Continues Mulling Budget
By Bill Dries
It’s not the best way to go about setting a city budget. But it does happen from time to time. With the July 1 start of the fiscal year now weeks away, the Memphis City Council is without a clear consensus on any one way to balance the city’s budget, which is $22.7 million in the red by the administration’s count.
City Councilman Shea Flinn said the budget wrap-up sessions are showing there is “$60 million in one-time funding going to plug a hole, an ongoing hole that is going to persist year over year.” The Memphis City Council is addressing the budget.
(Daily News file photo/Lance Murphey)
The red ink includes another $60 million in one-time revenue by the count of several council members.
The council began its two-day budget committee wrap up sessions Wednesday, June 1, with various proposals from individual council members that offer ways to get to a balanced budget.
“The reality of this wrap up process is we have about $60 million in one-time funding going to plug a hole, an ongoing hole that is going to persist year over year,” budget committee chairman Shea Flinn said last week. “To address that either this budget season or next … or however long we manage to push it off – there is either going to have to be a substantial increase in the tax rate, some substantial new revenue or substantial reduction in the size of government and the services it provides – possibly some combination.”
Council members have been meeting individually with Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and his city finance team reviewing their proposals on the way to a scheduled June 7 vote by the full council on a budget and tax rate.
What is missing from the current council’s debate is the 13th council member, Barbara Swearengen Ware.
Ware has been suspended from all council duties including attending council meetings and voting following her indictment last year on a charge of official misconduct. She is awaiting trial on the charge of using her office to dodge the requirements for city vehicle inspections not only for herself but for others. Her next court report date is June 23 and Ware has entered a plea of not guilty to the state charge.
Ware was the most vocal council member at budget time to advocate against any tax increases or cut in city spending. And her opposition to either often gave political cover to enough council members lining up behind her to make a majority of seven votes.
Even council members like Flinn who argued then and argue now for either cuts or a tax hike or some combination have long given Ware credit for being able to assemble votes for her cause.
With Ware off the council, there didn’t appear to be a seven-vote consensus going into this week’s wrap-up for any single plan. In past budget years, before the current council assemblage took office, that has usually meant a budget that is a patchwork of proposals from individual council members and possibly a continuation budget after July 1 to work out which patches to use.
But there is at least some acknowledgement that one of this council’s first major actions has at least resulted in years of budget complications if not an outright admission that the council gambled and lost big in the first year of its current four-year term of office.
Council member Harold Collins proposed last week that the council take back the 18-cent property tax roll back the current council approved during its first budget season after the 2007 city elections.
The city elections marked the largest turnover ever in the council since its creation in 1967 with the council for the first time since the 1967 elections having a majority of its members serving their first term of office.
The council cut the property tax rate as it also cut some but not all of the city funding to Memphis City Schools.
The tax cut started a court fight with MCS leaders that the school system won in court.