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VOL. 127 | NO. 56 | Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Council Rejects 18 Cent Property Tax Hike

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Council members voted Tuesday, March 20, to reject a one-time, 18-cent property tax hike to mop up an estimated $13 million in red ink for the current fiscal year.

Instead the council voted to use $10 million from the city’s reserve fund and cut $3.2 million in the existing budget including money for a voluntary buyout program of some sanitation workers that the Wharton administration has yet to activate.

The alternative crafted by council member Kemp Conrad rejected two other budget cuts suggested earlier in the day at City Hall by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. They were delaying the start of a police recruit class as well as payments of the city’s obligation to fund OPEB – Other Post Employment Benefits – that covers part of the liability the city faces for future retirees.

The council vote was 10-1 in favor of the resolution.

Those voting for the alternative were Conrad, council chairman Bill Morrison, Bill Boyd, Joe Brown, Harold Collins, Shea Flinn, Janis Fullilove, Lee Harris, Reid Hedgepeth and Jim Strickland.

Council member Wanda Halbert cast the only “no” vote. Council member Edmund Ford Jr. recused himself. Council member Myron Lowery was absent.

During a budget committee session Tuesday morning, the administration said it had discovered additional city funding over the weekend that brought its original estimate of $17 million in red ink down to just more than $13 million.

The change in estimates played a role in the 10 votes on the council for the alternative that drew together, at least for now, some of the council’s most disparate viewpoints.

The council could have left the shortfall to the administration to manage. But the approval of the Conrad resolution came with comments from several council members who said they had tried that during the 2011 budget season. Several felt that few of the measures the administration agreed to implement had been carried out.

Wharton said last week that he would probably not recommend a specific course of action for Tuesday’s council session but would instead offer the council a menu of options to select from.

The council’s view that it will structure city budget priorities is likely to carry over into the coming budget season that starts next month to set the city budget for the new fiscal year that begins July 1.

In other action, the council approved a planned development for warehouse and distribution uses on part of the old Mall of Memphis property. The 113.5 acres is on the northeast corner of Cherry Road and American Way Boulevard.

The council also approved special use permits for two pre-schools by Harding Academy of Memphis Inc. The sites are 4.5 acres on Cherry Road at Haverhill Road and 3.4 acres on Macon Road at Cully Road.

A final vote on a zoning ordinance for the India Cultural Center & Temple Inc. campus master plan was delayed for two weeks. So was a vote on a budget amendment to fund renovations at The Liberty Bowl.

And the council approved the reappointment of V. Lynn Evans to the Memphis Light Gas and Water Division board. The council is scheduled to vote in two weeks on the appointment of Derwin Sisnett to the utility board.

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