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VOL. 128 | NO. 44 | Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Sales Tax Hike Headed to Ballot

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Council members take final votes Tuesday, March 5, on a half-percent city sales tax hike referendum and the use of the estimated $47 million in revenue the tax hike will produce.

The council, which meets at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, 125 N. Main St., is expected to pass the referendum and send it to voters this year.

The ballot question would go to Memphis voters sometime before Sept. 30, probably in August or September, according to council sponsors Shea Flinn and Jim Strickland.

The ordinance setting the referendum is up for third and final reading Wednesday.

Along with that, the council will vote on a resolution that specifies $27 million of the tax hike revenue will be used to start a city government pre-kindergarten effort independent of public school system approval.

The city will have an appointed pre-kindergarten board to oversee the trust fund for that purpose. The board could opt to contract with the consolidated school system or a private entity to provide pre-kindergarten services within Memphis.

The remaining $20 million in revenue would go to a rollback of the city property tax rate by 20 cents.

The council also has final votes scheduled Tuesday on an ordinance to create a Memphis Tree Board to enforce guidelines for the trimming of trees and specifically against topping trees on city property as well as two ordinances on the renaming process for the three former Civil War-named parks – Confederate, Jefferson Davis and Forrest parks.

Memphis City Council members will vote on a half-percent city sales tax hike referendum and the use of the estimated $47 million in revenue the tax hike will produce.  

Last month the council temporarily renamed them Memphis, Mississippi River and Health Sciences Parks, respectively. The council acted before a bill in the Tennessee legislature could be voted on that would ban name changes of such parks.

Council members will discuss a severance package for city employees who work at the Motor Vehicle Inspection Bureau at the 2 p.m. executive session.

The city will be out of the auto inspection business as of the July 1 beginning of the new fiscal year.

The city has five inspection stations and 50 workers in the inspection bureau, including 37 full-time employees. Thirteen of the employees are eligible for retirement. They would not be eligible for the severance package. Neither would employees who find jobs in other parts of city government.

Full-time employees who aren’t in either one of those situations would get a lump sum severance within a month of leaving that is the equivalent of 10 weeks of base pay. They would remain in the city’s group health and dental insurance plan for 10 weeks in which the city would continue to pay the employer’s share of the premium.

The council voted in August to end all city funding for the inspection bureau at the end of the current fiscal year. It amounts to a $2.8 million savings for the city.

Shelby County government leaders have said they don’t want to assume the responsibility and they are now talking with state officials who would run the inspection operation by default.

At a 9 a.m. committee session, council members will consider the reappointment of Jerry Collins as president and CEO of Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division.

Collins was first appointed head of the utility by then-Mayor Willie Herenton in 2007.

Collins will be back for the 10:30 a.m. committee session where council members will again quiz him about a $10,000 increase in contract funding for the utility’s Smart Meter demonstration project.

A vote on the resolution has been delayed twice as some council members question the project. Some on the council fear more widespread use of the technology will lead to layoffs of utility meter readers.

PROPERTY SALES 63 441 6,018
MORTGAGES 72 450 6,721
BANKRUPTCIES 0 1,045 4,093