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VOL. 128 | NO. 109 | Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Wharton Proposes 15-Cent Tax Hike, Council Delays Budget Votes

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Council members delayed a series of seven budget and tax rate-related votes Tuesday, June 4, at the end of a busy day at City Hall.

The day featured a new tax rate proposal from Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. that includes a 15-cent city property tax hike above the recertified rate proposed by Wharton.

And municipal union leaders showed up in committee sessions Tuesday to mount vocal opposition to Wharton’s plan to lay off employees and cut pension and health benefits.

The council is now scheduled to take final votes on a city operating budget and the city property tax rate ordinance at its June 18 meeting.

Council chairman Edmund Ford also has a notice ready to call a special council meeting after the June 18 session, if necessary, to complete council approval of the budget and tax rate by the end of the month.

The new fiscal year at City Hall begins July 1.

Wharton is proposing a 15-cent city property tax hike on top of the 25-cents added to the current rate of $3.11 to compensate for property value lost in the 2013 property reappraisal.

The combined tax rate of $3.51, the city’s property tax rate in 2009, was unveiled in a Tuesday council committee session in which Wharton’s directors talked in more detail about changes in employee and retiree benefits the administration took to council members last Friday.

The 15-cent city property tax hike proposal debuted the day after the Shelby County Commission approved a six-cent county property tax hike ordinance on the first of three readings.

In April, Wharton had proposed a recertified tax rate of $3.36 with no tax hike beyond what he said was needed to produce the same amount of revenue for city government.

Chief administrative officer George Little and city finance director Brian Collins told the council the reworked budget remains a “continuation budget” with no new spending. But they said the 15-cents on the tax rate is needed to close gaps on debt and pension and benefit obligations cited in a state comptroller’s report.

In making fixes recommended by the administration specifically to address those concerns the council used $11 million from the city’s reserve fund and replenishing that amount is part of the consideration.

The changes in benefits drew municipal labor unions to a Tuesday morning budget committee session with union leaders saying the changes violate agreements between the unions and the administration.

Council budget committee chairman Jim Strickland appointed a three-member council subcommittee to try to restart talks between the administration and the unions.

In other action, the council sided with the Communication Workers of America in affirming an impasse committee decision that gives Memphis Police Department dispatchers a 4.6 percent raise in the new fiscal year.

The council approved on the first of three readings an ordinance proposed by council member Lee Harris that would exempt Memphis vehicle owners from auto inspections when city funding for the emissions testing runs out at the start of the new fiscal year.

And the council approved on third and final reading another ordinance by Harris that updates a set of 20 regulations affecting bicyclists and pedestrians. It raises the fine for parking or driving a car on a sidewalk to $50.

A day after the Shelby County Commission transferred 9.5 acres of land in Cordova for Penny’s Fastbreak Courts, a children’s basketball complex, the council transferred and appropriated $150,000 for architect engineering of the complex that had already been budgeted by the city. The $14-million complex is half way to its goal of raising private funds that are the rest of the funding.

The council delayed for a month action on a set of three ordinances sponsored by council member Kemp Conrad that ban pension double dipping and make other civil service reforms. Conrad is awaiting legal opinions from city council attorney Allan Wade before he moves the items to third and final reading.

And the council approved its $3 million share of the $9 million replacement of the Raleigh-Millington Road Bridge over the Loosahatchie River. Another $5 million comes from state funding.

PROPERTY SALES 50 389 12,758
MORTGAGES 21 248 8,003
BUILDING PERMITS 295 813 29,934
BANKRUPTCIES 35 164 6,064