Council Approves October Sales Tax Hike Referendum

By Bill Dries

Memphis City Council members won’t be holding a referendum on a half percent hike in the city sales tax rate in November when suburban voters are electing school boards.

The council instead approved on third and final reading Tuesday, Aug. 6, a referendum on a special election ballot some time in October.

The change in dates is to prevent the Shelby County Commission from pre-empting the sales tax referendum by calling its own referendum on a countywide sales tax hike in November. The commission cannot exercise the option in state law within a year of a previous sales tax referendum. And the county’s commission’s sales tax hike ballot question was defeated by voters in November 2012.

The council also approved a companion resolution Tuesday that establishes an appointed pre kindergarten board to administer a trust fund of $30 million annually to provide pre kindergarten services in the city of Memphis only, under contract with an agency. The board would choose a provider through a request for proposals.

Any revenue from the sales tax hike over what is necessary to provide pre kindergarten services in the city would go, by terms of the resolution, to reducing the city property tax rate.

The two actions topped a busy but short agenda that included an attempt by council member Janis Fullilove to have the city declare a four-month moratorium on all demolitions of properties on the National Register of Historic Places. The moratorium would have applied to the 19th Century Club in Midtown.

Fullilove delayed a vote on the measure after several council members said the issue is being addressed in Chancery Court and questioned why the new property owner hadn’t been notified of the plans.

The council approved a change in the current fiscal year’s budget that would take $469,040 in city funding for the Economic Development Growth Engine organization and instead allocate it to the Memphis Area Transit Authority.

The transit authority board was scheduled to vote Wednesday on cuts in services that Fullilove and council member Lee Harris wanted the funding shift to pay for keeping.

In Tuesday committee sessions, Harris withdrew a proposal that would have required the city to give a month’s notice before closing any police or fire stations and would have reappropriated $5.2 million specifically to keep Fire Station #6 from closing.

The North Memphis fire house was tentatively proposed for closing by the administration of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. last month. But Wharton has since said there will be no closing of that firehouse or any other fire house or police precinct in the current fiscal year. With that assurance, Harris withdrew both of his proposals.