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VOL. 128 | NO. 135 | Friday, July 12, 2013

Wharton Fires Back at Budget Critics

By Bill Dries

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Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. said some critics of cuts this week in the Memphis Fire Department are the same Memphis City Council members who were critical of his administration for not cutting enough during the just-ended city budget season.


“By George, we have cut, and the very folks who say cut, cut, cut will be the very ones you will see in the days ahead who will be blasting me for the attrition plan in the Fire Department,” Wharton said at the Thursday, July 11, taping of the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines.”

The program, hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, airs Friday at 7 p.m.

Wharton talked about the city property tax increase the same week that Memphis Fire Department brass announced the closing of a fire station and other reductions. The department cuts are part of a budget plan to reduce the city payroll in the fiscal year that began July 1 by 300 employees who will leave through attrition.

The city’s bottom line will see savings from the attrition reductions over the following two fiscal years.

Wharton described those critical of the Fire Department cuts as “fear mongers.”

“This is through not replacing individuals who were leaving anyway. We are going to keep the response time within the acceptable standards so there is no risk,” he said. “Some members of the council said let’s just cut. Well, there are certain things you cut but you don’t get a recurring benefit from those cuts. … The best way to keep those numbers down on a sustainable basis is to reduce your employee compliment.”

The city tax rate of $3.40 is a 29-cent increase in the tax rate. Of that 29 cents, 25 cents is the increase needed to produce the same amount of revenue for city government taking into account property value lost in the 2013 property reappraisal. The remaining 4 cents is a tax hike.

"By George, we have cut, and the very folks who say cut, cut, cut will be the very ones you will see in the days ahead who will be blasting me for the attrition plan in the Fire Department."

–Mayor A C Wharton Jr.

Wharton bristled at criticism from some on the council who said the increase in the tax rate contributes to a continuing population shift out of Memphis.

Wharton noted that since before he became mayor in October 2009, the council has rolled back the city property tax rate until this fiscal year. The roll back started with a cut of city funding to Memphis City Schools in 2008.

“If that’s the case,” Wharton said of the exodus theory, “why didn’t people just flood in here when they had that whopping tax cut back there that got us into this trouble? Did the folks rush in here? Did folks stop leaving?”

Wharton also rejected the idea that the budget should have focused exclusively on reductions in spending, linking the philosophy to the austerity measures some European governments have taken recently.

“It has failed in Europe … this idea that austerity will cure all ills,” he said. “It has not worked globally. It will not work locally. … Who is focusing on growth? Everything is cut, cut, cut. Anybody can say that. Forrest Gump can say that.”

PROPERTY SALES 124 481 17,865
MORTGAGES 127 530 20,565
BUILDING PERMITS 195 891 36,836
BANKRUPTCIES 52 262 11,426