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VOL. 126 | NO. 183 | Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Council Takes Closer Look at Dollar Signs

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Council members could vote Tuesday, Sept. 20, to add another item to the Nov. 8, 2012, election ballot topped by the presidential general election.

Council members vote on third and final reading of an ordinance that would put to city voters a requirement that two-thirds council approval – or nine votes – is required for any city property tax hike that is, as a percentage, higher than the percentage of the rate of inflation.

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

Firefighters protest outside City Hall in June as hundreds of city workers and union members gathered to protest pay cuts by the Memphis City Council.  The council will consider a contract impasse Tuesday.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)

The ordinance by council member Kemp Conrad comes the same year that the council approved a one-time-only 18-cent property tax hike to pay Memphis City Schools money the city had cut in past fiscal years. The tax hike is not part of the city property tax rate, which remained stable for the fiscal year that began July 1.

Council members won't be deciding an impasse item between the Memphis Fire Fighters Association and Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s administration that had been on Tuesday's agenda. Attorneys for both sides in the contract dispute settled their differences and withdrew the impasse item from consideration.

The council had repeatedly delayed acting on the impasse on the advice of the city attorney and the council’s own attorney. The attorneys cited the federal court lawsuit all 13 municipal unions, including the fire fighters, filed in July over a 4.6 percent pay cut for city employees.

Leaders of the firefighters union claimed the lawsuit has nothing to do with the impasse item, which deals with binding arbitration language in the city’s contract with the union.

But City Attorney Herman Morris and council attorney Allan Wade disagreed, saying the lawsuit’s claim that the pay cut violates the city’s impasse ordinance is one of several connections.

The impasse ordinance is the rule that sets the procedure for a committee of three council members to hear final positions from both sides in a disputed contract provision involving an economic issue and then make a decision. Either side in the dispute can appeal the impasse committee decision to the full council, which would then decide if it wants to take a vote of all 13 members to reverse the committee’s decision.

The ordinance was enacted in the wake of the 1978 police and fire strikes and has been overhauled several times in the intervening years.

The settlement does not affect the federal lawsuit.

The case is due for a status report and scheduling conference Wednesday, Sept. 21, before Memphis federal court Judge Hardy Mays.

The unions are seeking a preliminary injunction from Mays that would stop the pay cuts, which took effect with the July 1 start of the new fiscal year.

Wharton has said without the pay cuts, the administration would be forced to lay off several hundred city employees.

The council also votes on third and final reading of an ordinance that would change city pension and benefit plans for new city employees hired on or after Oct. 1 and city employees on the payroll for less than 10 years.

The changes would establish minimum retirement ages for city workers, eliminate total disability retirement for city employees who can be transferred to other city positions that allow them to work around their disabilities. It would also limit death benefits for spouses of city employees who remarry following either death or divorce.

Meanwhile, at an 8:30 a.m. committee session, council members will get an update on the voluntary buyout of city sanitation workers that was among the elements of the council approved budget plan for the current fiscal year.

And council members will discuss the elimination of city wrecker service operations, another budget move from the spring.

At an 11 a.m. committee meeting, council members get their first detailed look at a $9 million plan in which the city of Memphis would lease solid waste garbage trucks from Banc of America Public Capital Corp. The schedule for the trucks would be added to an existing master lease between the city and Banc of America for red light cameras at several city intersections.

RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 23 23 1,365
MORTGAGES 21 21 1,068
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 6 6 196
BUILDING PERMITS 117 117 3,173
BANKRUPTCIES 42 42 795
BUSINESS LICENSES 2 2 331
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 0 0
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 0 0