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VOL. 127 | NO. 49 | Monday, March 12, 2012

Tax Hike Speaks to Budget Trouble

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Remember the “one-time-only” 18-cent property tax hike approved by the Memphis City Council in 2011?

Now that the first half of the current fiscal year is on the books and the city looks to be $17 million or so in the red, the council is getting ready to put it on a one-time-only property tax bill.

It is important to watch what happens after the bill shows up in your mailbox.

There is about to be a move to make that one-time-only tax hike a permanent part of the city property tax rate starting with the fiscal year that begins July 1.

That’s the same budget year for which Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s administration and the city council will begin budget hearings in about a month.

And they set the stage for the move at the annual council retreat last month that include dire predictions about how much in the red the city will be for that fiscal year.

The answer to the dilemma of city government is the same as it was a year ago and the year before that – make fundamental changes in the way the city does business.

Don’t talk about it as a gradual or eventual goal. Do it. Just like some on the council would propose to raise the property tax rate.

The time has come to shrink the size and scope of city government.

The changes needed in city government mean City Hall won’t be able to continue to please all of the people all of the time.

That’s not the reality of a life in politics anyway. It’s an illusion that some elected officials have come to believe is their job. Soothe the ruffled feathers and live to “serve” another day.

And we believe the time has come for an overhaul of the process by which revenue estimates are made. Mayor Wharton already started a move toward this in his state of the city address when he talked about the position of chief financial officer for a city structure that already has a finance and administration division director.

We see the CFO’s position as an unnecessary duplication. Call the finance director the chief financial officer or vice versa. But one director with a more realistic view of the city’s financial state is what is needed. Not two doing the job of one. That’s not a CFO – that’s more like “CYA.”

The last time we had that, a city finance director, and then the mayor, had lost track of the city’s true financial condition and the CFO’s position was created to right the city’s financial ship, which he did.

If there is a similar problem now, it is probably time for a new finance director and not a new square on the city’s management chart or an 18-cent addition to the city property tax rate.

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