VOL. 129 | NO. 162 | Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Fullilove Calls Off Sales Tax Hike Try, Unions May Try
By Bill Dries
Memphis City Council member Janis Fullilove pulled the plug Tuesday, Aug. 19, on a proposed November referendum on a citywide half cent sales tax hike.
But she said municipal union leaders are pursuing a petition drive that could bring the question to the council and from there to the ballot.
The referendum ordinance was on the council’s agenda Tuesday for the second of three readings. Fullilove withdrew it citing an opinion from council attorney Allan Wade that there wasn’t enough time for final approval and to get the measure to the Election Commission in time to be on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Fullilove and the union leaders want to use revenue from the extra half cent on the sales tax rate to restore city government employee and retiree health insurance benefit cuts the council approved earlier this summer.
The council continues to hear from employees and retirees, predominantly firefighters and police officers and their spouses, at the end of their twice a month council sessions.
Council chairman Jim Strickland and vice chairman Myron Lowery, meanwhile, sent Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. a letter asking him to be present for the comments and criticisms the council is hearing.
Wharton has said in the past that he has specifically not been at the council discussions and debate or the larger debate in council sessions because he met with employees and retirees before the council approved his proposal on health insurance benefits.
“It’s obvious there’s a lack of communication going on,” Strickland said.
“Citizens have come to us – all of us – saying where is the mayor,” Lowery added, a message he and Strickland put in writing and in person as they later met with Wharton.
When the council voted on the changes to health insurance coverage in June, Strickland said then that it was important for the mayor to be present for the decision.
Wharton was present in council chambers Tuesday for the first time.
The comments the council has heard at the end of its agenda since the decision feature some of the same critics from one meeting to the next. The comments at the end of Tuesday’s meetings went for an hour with several critics questioning the intelligence of the council and whether they understood the jobs of city employees.
One complained that council member Edmund Ford Jr. was showing her disrespect because he was “sitting with his profile to me.”
Council member Lee Harris said the comments are less personal than they were at the outset. But he still questioned whether Strickland should caution citizens against remarking on “anything outside of actions by the (council) members … as council members.”
The council approved on the first of three readings an ordinance that adjusts the city’s policy on the investment of the city’s pension trust fund. The change would up the percentage of investments in real estate from five percent to 10 percent.
In other action Tuesday, council members approved the transfer of $3.5 million in construction period rent on the Pyramid from Bass Pro Shops to the city’s Housing and Community Development Division.
The council also voted down an $8.8 million contract between Memphis Light Gas and Water Division and David H. Elliot Construction Co. of Lexington, Ky. for electric construction.
The contract is for meeting federal NERC – North American Electric Reliability Corp. – standards for the reliability of the power grid.
Council members and the union representing utility employees didn’t like that the contract went to an out of town contractor.
The council approved $26.8 million in actuarial funding to the Memphis Light Gas and Water Division retirement and pension system for the 2014 plan year and another $13.3 million transfer from the utility common fund to pay MLGW’s annual OPEB – other post employment benefits – cost.
Third and final reading of council member Wanda Halbert’s ordinance creating community advisory councils to set priorities for a $14 million pool of capital funding among the seven single-member council districts was delayed to Sept. 16.