Wharton Pitches Budget With 28-Cent Property Tax Rate Hike

By Bill Dries

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. presented a $622.5 million operating budget proposal to the Memphis City Council Tuesday, April 16, that would require a property tax rate increase of 28 cents.

That would bring the city property tax rate, currently at $3.11, to $3.39.

Wharton said the 28 cent rate increase is necessary to make up for $15 million in city revenue lost in the 2013 reappraisal as property values for the purposes of taxation dropped. The rate increase also covers $10 million in added debt service the city begins to pay starting with the new fiscal year July 1 because of a restructuring of the city’s debt several years ago.

Wharton also included in his budget proposal a 2.3 percent pay raise for all city employees that would take effect in January, the halfway point in the city fiscal year.

Wharton later referred to it as a start on the “restoration” of a 4.6 percent pay cut city employees took in 2011.

Wharton’s presentation to the city council, which is required by the city charter, was different than past years. It was a short set of remarks and as council members began seeking recognition following Wharton’s remarks, Wharton left the council chambers.

Several council members said Wharton’s departure was “disrespectful.”

“It’s not a budget meeting,” Wharton told reporters in his office later as the council continued meeting on a different floor at City Hall. “It’s a budget presentation.”

Wharton said the end of the city’s required funding of Memphis City Schools in the new fiscal year does not produce any windfall for city government because the funding continually came from one time only revenue and was not a recurring source of funding that remains available with the end of the schools funding.

He also touted what he said was a smaller city budget, an assertion that was immediately disputed by council budget committee chairman Jim Strickland.

The early reaction is an indication that council members will continue for a seventh year to change the administration’s budget plans.

“None of us will recognize it three months from now,” Wharton told reporters when asked what he thinks his budget proposal will look like after the council review.

Council budget committee hearings begin Tuesday, April 23.

In other action, the council approved the appointment of Pace Cooper as the newest member of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority Board.

The council also approved a planned development at Greenlaw and North Fifth Street that is a parking lot and possible expansion area for Memphis College Preparatory Elementary School.

The council voted down a resolution appropriating $99,213 for sewer repairs to the Cedar Creek Sewer extension in an area in the Memphis annexation reserve area but not in the city of Memphis.

Council members questioned the 50-50 split with a developer the administration could not identify at a time when the city is not moving to annex any areas.

Council members also approved a resolution by council member Lee Harris establishing a severance package for city workers at auto inspection stations as talks continue among the city and county and state government about who will operate the emissions testing at those stations.

Council members voted last year to end all city funding of the stations and the testing effective June 30, the end of the current fiscal year.

And the council approved on third and final reading a set of amendments to the Unified Development Code that were approved Monday by the Shelby County Commission.