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VOL. 128 | NO. 152 | Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Council Debates Restoring MATA Service

By Bill Dries

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A day before the board of the Memphis Area Transit Authority votes on significant cuts in bus and trolley service, the Memphis City Council will review $2.1 million in capital spending for the authority.

And there is a council proposal to restore the service cuts by cutting city funding to the city-county Economic Development Growth Engine – or EDGE – by $469,000.

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

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

The three capital spending resolutions would pay the local share of replacing 30 buses and to upgrade bus facilities.

During council committee sessions, council members will talk over a proposal by council members Lee Harris and Janis Fullilove to cut EDGE funding to a total of $1.6 million.

Of the cuts, $379,040 would be used under the plan to restore bus routes, and the remaining $90,000 would be used to restore cuts in trolley service.

At the same 9:45 a.m. committee session, the council takes up another proposal by Harris that would require two public hearings by the city if the administration of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. tries again to close Fire Station No. 6. The fire station on Danny Thomas Boulevard north of Chelsea Avenue is in Harris’ district.

The requirement also would apply to any other “significant changes in levels of public safety during fiscal year 2014,” according to the resolution. Other provisions require 30 days’ notice from the city prior to such a closing as well as a plan for disposing of the property 30 days before it closes.

Harris has a separate resolution that would set aside $5.2 million in the city’s reserve fund to “maintain public safety levels in North Memphis and avoid permanent closure of Fire Station No. 6.”

The resolution, which is cosponsored by council member Joe Brown, is built on the premise that the city’s $3.40 property tax rate will produce $5 million more than anticipated. Others on the council strongly disagree with that calculation.

Council committee sessions before the meeting of the full council also include a 12:30 p.m. discussion of a resolution for a $10.1 million Smart Meter contract with Elster Solutions LLC.

The contract is for a combined Smart Meter system of 60,000 residential meters plus the infrastructure and systems for the remote reading of the utility meters by Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division.

Committee chairwoman Janis Fullilove has delayed previous resolutions on smaller Smart Meter expenditures and contracts for months at a time.

She is the most vocal opponent on the council of the new technology, which would eliminate the need for meter readers who go to residences and businesses to physically read individual meters. The new technology allows utility workers to read the meters remotely.

Fullilove is among critics who allege the meters are unsafe and are an intrusion on privacy.

The utility has contested the claims vigorously.

A companion resolution sets the stage for a council vote on changing customers with Smart Meters to time-of-use residential utility rates. Time-of-use rates bill customers at different rates for “on peak” and “off peak” hours during the summer and winter, instead of at the standard rates that remain the same no matter what time of day the energy is used.

At the committee session, Fullilove also wants to discuss the idea of “notifying customers of media requests,” after a television station requested and received a copy of Fullilove’s utility bills. Fullilove had complained that a Smart Meter caused her monthly bill to go up. The records show her bill did not increase.

After numerous delays, the council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on third and final reading of a referendum ordinance to raise the city’s sales tax rate and also vote on a resolution that would allocate the revenue from such a tax hike.

At the council’s 2:15 p.m. executive session, council members will discuss the plan by council members Shea Flinn and Jim Strickland to put a half percent citywide sales tax hike on the Nov. 7 ballot for voters to decide.

The half percent would generate an estimated $47 million in revenue. Of that, $20 million would be used to roll back the city’s property tax rate. The remaining $27 million would be used for an expansion of prekindergarten classrooms within the city of Memphis, with the city contracting with an agency – possibly Shelby County Schools – to provide the service.

The Nov. 7 election date for the ballot question is the same date suburban leaders are seeking to hold elections for school boards to lead the municipal school districts being formed by each of the six towns and cities.

PROPERTY SALES 51 334 9,936
MORTGAGES 41 330 10,946
BUILDING PERMITS 348 1,216 22,173
BANKRUPTCIES 43 348 6,311