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VOL. 129 | NO. 151 | Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Health Care Safety Net Tops Council Agenda

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Council members get more information during the Tuesday, Aug. 5, council day on different parts of City Hall’s ongoing health benefits and pension liability discussions.

But the only item on the agenda for a vote Tuesday is a resolution to create a $2 million “safety net” that was delayed last month.

The Exchange Building would become a hotel with Memphis City Council approval. A vote is scheduled at Tuesday’s council session on a special use permit.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

The fund is for employees and retirees who might otherwise be without health care coverage in the change in benefits to come later this year.

The council meets at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, 125 N. Main St. Follow the meeting @tdnpols, www.twitter.com/tdnpols.

Since the last meeting in July, the safety net has been rebranded as a “trust fund” by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s administration, with donations to the nonprofit entity from health care providers who are donating services as well as money to the effort.

City chief administrative officer George Little said last week the effort doesn’t require council approval but that the administration is seeking to work with the council on the details of the trust fund.

“Obviously, we are going to make sure they are well-informed,” Little said. “We’re not going to surprise them. … But the actual account is being set up in such a way that it will be out there and transparent. But we don’t need to go back to the budgeting process to utilize that particular mechanism.”

The administration touts its “health assurance plan” at an 8 a.m. committee session. The plan is a detailed explanation of how health insurance changes will work for city employees and retirees that assures none will be left without coverage.

It also spells out the assistance the city will provide through the trust fund for those who would otherwise fall between the cracks in a transition to coverage through the federal health insurance exchange.

At the same committee session, council members will again field alternative proposals from any citizen who wants to make a presentation.

Council members talk over the city’s health care fund at a 1 p.m. audit committee session, and the 1:30 p.m. executive session includes a presentation on Medi-Gap insurance coverage.

Meanwhile, council members vote at the 3:30 p.m. session on a special use permit that would convert the 19-story Exchange Building apartments on the northwest corner of Madison Avenue and North Second Street into a full-service hotel building, according to the Tuesday agenda item.

The conversion is a plan by Silk Road Hospitality LLC doing business as The Exchange LLC.

The Exchange, built in 1910, was renovated in the mid-1990s as an apartment building. It was in foreclosure in February 2010 after the owner, Exchange Building Limited Partnership, defaulted on a $2.9 million construction loan through First Tennessee Bank from 1995.

The building sold for $1.9 million in April 2010 to Northwest Capital Group Inc. and resold that December to UIGTN III LLC of Evanston, Ill., for $2.3 million.

In other action Tuesday, the council votes on closing a street at the southwest corner of Forrest Avenue and Watkins Street for the Crosstown redevelopment project, which began construction last week.

And the council has on its agenda the third and final reading of an ordinance proposed by council Chairman Jim Strickland that would create a trial residential parking permit zone in Overton Square. Strickland has twice delayed a final vote on the measure to see if business owners and homeowners can work through differences on the matter.

Up for the second of three readings Tuesday is an ordinance by council member Wanda Halbert to establish “community advisory councils” in each of the seven single-member council districts.

The advisory councils would be part of determining how to spend a proposed $14 million pool of capital funding to be split evenly among the seven districts.

Halbert had proposed the funding for the current fiscal year, but the effort was delayed by questions council members had about who would determine what projects were pursued in each district. Halbert proposed the councils.

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