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VOL. 128 | NO. 163 | Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Council Approves Smart Meters, Delays Vote on Solid Waste Fee and Plan

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Council members approved a $10.1 million contract Tuesday, Aug. 20, for Memphis Light Gas and Water Division to buy 60,000 Smart Meters.

And the council delayed a final vote on setting a solid waste fee that is the starting point for changes over several years to the way the city collects garbage. The two-week delay in setting the fee also delays acting on a plan to provide sanitation workers with a retirement supplement of up to $1,000 a month funded with the savings from the changes in the services.

Council members indicated Tuesday, after an hour of questions about the plan in committee sessions, that they still want more discussion on the matter.

The plan was worked out by the administration of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees local which represents city sanitation workers.

The Smart Meter contract vote came with more questions from council members for utility president Jerry Collins but relatively little in the way of debate.

Collins confirmed that the utility will not charge a fee to customers who opt out of the Smart Meters. Such a fee was in the original version of the plan but several council members moved to take it out.

Before the questions from council members, the council heard from 29 citizens on both sides of the question.

Opponents claimed the meters will be costlier than the utility is saying and said they believe the meters are unsafe and will cause health problems. The proponents of the meters including some who have the Smart Meters said they have saved money on their utility bills with them.

Council member Janis Fullilove first attempted to amend the contract resolution to call for a citywide referendum on the use of Smart Meters and then tried unsuccessfully to delay the vote for four months.

The council vote for the contract was 9-4 in favor.

The council followed up by setting time-of-use rates for the Smart Meters that will charge utility customers based on when they use energy during the day. Energy usage during peak hours comes with a higher rate while use during non-peak hours comes with a lower rate.

The council’s most vocal debate of the evening was over a $501,000 state grant to the Memphis Police Department for the testing of 2,200 rape kits police investigators have taken, some dating back to the 1980s, that have never been processed.

The council approved the resoulution but delayed for two weeks a move by council member Kemp Conrad to use $2.5 million more from city reserves to process all of the rape kits.

Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong told the council he has no exact count on the number of rape kits but said it was in the thousands.

Conrad argued the situation was urgent enough to warrant immediate funding. Other council members disagreed, saying they want to hear how the use of money from the city reserves would affect the city’s finances.

Fullilove delayed for two weeks a vote on her resolution to put a four-month moratorium on the demolition of any Memphis sites that are on the National Register of Historic Places. The moratorium is aimed at the 19th Century Club site in Midtown whose demolition has been delayed for now by a Chancery Court order in a lawsuit over how the property was sold by the nonprofit group.

In other action, the council approved a 2014 city referendum on a charter change that would change the city’s civil service board system. Part of the proposal by Conrad is aimed at better staffing the review board that decides employee appeals to hear what is now a backlog of cases and resolve them more quickly. The other change would incorporate performance as an issue an employee could be cited for and appeal in addition to violations of policies.

The council also approved the $30 million budget for the Main Street to Main Street Connector project that outlines how the combination of state, federal and local and private funding will be spent and when it will be spent.

The council delayed votes on a gas station at Knight Arnold and Ridgeway Road as well as a new commercial building on the Kirby Gates Business Campus.

The council approved a Corrections Corporation of America residential reentry center at 3420 Old Getwell Road at Holman Road.

It also approved the Memphis Light Gas and Water Division plan to have Brookfield Infrastructure Fund II manage $20 million for the utility’s retirement and pension fund.

And the council approved on third and final reading a long delayed ordinance that prohibits city employees from pension “double dipping” by continuing to collect a city pension if they go back to the work for the city or another local government.

The administration withdrew its ordinance to create the position of “revenue manager” within the city’s division of finance after some on the council and council attorney Allan Wade questioned why the administration couldn’t simply create the position without council approval.

“I don’t think we ever saw Dick Hackett do this,” Wade said, referring to former Mayor Dick Hackett.

PROPERTY SALES 97 418 8,253
MORTGAGES 112 508 9,293
BUILDING PERMITS 194 1,059 18,126
BANKRUPTCIES 46 208 5,367