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VOL. 126 | NO. 120 | Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Wharton to Present New Budget to Council

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Council members will try again Tuesday, June 21, to approve a city budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Memphis City Council members Jim Strickland, left, and Reid Hedgepeth listen to budget deliberations at Memphis City Hall.

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. was expected to bring a new balanced budget proposal to the council as the week began.

The last council meeting on June 7 ended with several budget amendments but no final vote on an overall budget and tax rate. It was $11 million in the red and was a patchwork of proposals from the administration as well as individual council members.

At Tuesday’s council session, council members will examine the administration’s new proposal to see which amendments from two weeks ago are included in the latest plan.

The council meeting begins at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, 250 N. Main St.

Several council members are locked in battle with leaders of the big three municipal unions. And the argument over who said what and what they meant by it has made reaching some kind of middle ground or compromise much more difficult.

Leaders of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees have vowed to defeat council member Kemp Conrad in the October city elections for his proposal to privatize city sanitation services. The union has already begun posting videos critical of Conrad as well as fellow council member Reid Hedgepeth. The videos as well as union leaders accuse both of trying to return workers to conditions that precipitated the 1968 sanitation workers strike – the city’s most potent and storied labor dispute.

Conrad and Hedgepeth have denied the union’s claims.

And Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. said last week the efforts to balance the city’s budget should neither single out nor automatically exclude any department of city government.

“We look at everything. That includes a part of the history. But that does not mean that any one factor rules the day when it comes to determining what’s best both for the worker ... and the city,” Wharton said. “New York City cannot say that because of what happened on 9/11 that you never lay off any firefighters – that you never do anything because of the large number of them that laid down their lives. … We look at every division of city government and see if there are alternative ways of providing services.”

Wharton did not back Conrad’s proposal to privatize city sanitation services. But he has proposed a “managed competition” contract in which the city would contract with sanitation workers in business for themselves. The proposal has been a general idea not offered to the City Council for a vote.

AFSCME and other municipal union leaders have been vocal in their opposition to that as well, lumping Conrad’s proposal together with the administration’s idea.

“Certainly it has an emotional aspect to it. You have to look at that. Everything has to be factored in,” Wharton said of the 1968 sanitation workers strike that has been a dominant feature of the union opposition. “But not one factor should come in and say for that reason we will do this or we won’t do this. You don’t throw history out the window. They do receive special attention. … It cannot be said that the city is callous to that. They are not going to be singled out on my watch.”

When the council’s last meeting ended two weeks ago, the city budget proposal was approximately $11 million in the red.

And an effort to exchange some or all of the $60 million in one-time-only revenue Wharton wanted to use for $60 million in recurring revenue through cuts and privatization appeared to have failed two weeks ago. That’s when the council voted down a proposed 18-cent city property tax rate hike.

But two weeks is a long time in such matters.

Meanwhile, at an 11 a.m. budget committee session, council members will consider a proposal by that would require a two-thirds majority vote by the council – nine of the 13 members – to increase property taxes if the percentage increase is higher than inflation.

The proposed amendment to the city charter would go to Memphis voters on the Nov. 8, 2012, ballot. It would not apply to the budget now under consideration for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The proposal by Conrad and city council chairman Myron Lowery is scheduled for a final vote on third reading during one of the two council meetings in August.

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