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VOL. 128 | NO. 138 | Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Council Ponders Use of Reserve To Keep Fire Station Open

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Council member considered briefly Tuesday, July 16, using $1.1 million from the $48 million city reserve fund to keep a North Memphis fire station open.

But they dropped the idea after Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. agreed to keep Fire Station #6, on Danny Thomas Boulevard north of Chelsea Avenue open at least until Labor Day.

During that time, the administration and council will explore ways to keep it open or develop criteria for such closings.

The closing was part of a plan by Memphis Fire Director Alvin Benson that is a reaction to the council’s approval of losing 300 jobs across city government through attrition during the fiscal year that began July 1.

Benson told the council that the closing would not be at the expense of public safety. But he said the response time for call in the area could lag but would be within acceptable public safety standards. He also noted there are three firehouses within a mile and a half of Fire Station #6.

Council member Joe Brown proposed using money from the city’s reserve whose depleted status drew the attention and criticism of the Tennessee comptroller’s office. Comptroller Justin Wilson threatened in May to take measures to replenish the fund if the city did not.

“We’re only talking about $1.l million coming out of reserves,” Brown said. “That’s not a lot of money.”

But Wharton and Benson warned that using the reserve funding would just put the city back in the same spot in the next fiscal year.

Council member Reid Hedgepeth was among those warning against the use of reserves.

“What will the comptroller think if three weeks into our budget year we are already taking money from our reserves?” he asked. “We know we’ve got issues after next year with reserves. We cannot continue to do this.”

Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong also acknowledged again Tuesday that his options for dealing with the same headcount drop of 300 city employees through attrition include closing three police precincts.

Armstrong was more specific Tuesday about the timing saying the closings of Mount Moriah and Ridgeway Stations as well as Old Allen Station are options for the next fiscal year. The closings would cause police brass to redraw district lines for the remaining precincts, a reconfiguration Armstrong just implemented starting this year as he sought to make the precincts more equal in terms of the calls for service they respond to.

Armstrong said Old Allen Station made the list for possible closing simply because of its age.

“Those are things we do not want to do,” he said.

Armstrong also confirmed that he will not form any police academy classes or promotions during the current fiscal year as part of the measures to absorb the losses through attrition.

Meanwhile, the council approved on the first of three readings the creation of the position of “revenue manager” within the city’s finance division as part of the restructuring of the city’s finances.

In other action, the council delayed several items that would have called for special referendum elections in this off election year. The council delayed final votes to set referendums on civil service changes as well as on a proposed half-percent sales tax hike.

It also delayed a vote on third and final reading of the ordinance prohibiting pension “double dipping” by retired city employees who return to work for the city or a local government entity and continue to collect their pension as they get paid for the new job.

The council approved on third and final reading an ordinance that ups some false alarm fines and fees.

Also approved was $250,000 in funding for traffic signal improvements at Pleasant View Road and Covington Pike as well as $300,000 for engineering and inspection work on a Central Avenue crosswalk funded by the state for the University of Memphis.

And the council approved accepting state grant money for an access road into the site of the Nike plant expansion in Frayser.

PROPERTY SALES 56 289 2,908
MORTGAGES 55 226 2,009
BUILDING PERMITS 108 1,002 6,703
BANKRUPTCIES 42 248 1,225