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VOL. 129 | NO. 235 | Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Council Embraces New Pension 'Concept'

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Council members are still weighing their options on pension plan changes after another alternative emerged Tuesday, Dec. 2, and the “concept” got eight votes on the council.

The alternative by council member Wanda Halbert is a middle ground between no unvested city employees in the city’s new hybrid pension plan that debuts in 2016 as proposed by council member Myron Lowery and all unvested city employees going to the hybrid plan as proposed by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.

City employees with less than 10 years on the job are not vested in the city’s pension plan.

The council voted down Wharton’s plan last month and Tuesday was scheduled to vote on third and final reading of Lowery’s alternative.

Halbert instead proposed city employees on the job seven-and-a-half-years would be switched to the hybrid plan that is a market-based retirement account and a defined contributions plan. Their contributions and the city’s contributions under the current defined benefits plan would be frozen and could be tapped into after retirement, under Halbert’s proposal.

She referred to it as being “two pots of money” for those retirees.

The council vote was on the basic concept and amendment only, with a final vote on the ordinance, or main motion as amended, to come at the Dec. 16 council meeting. In committee sessions earlier that day, council members should have a more detailed written draft of the plan in ordinance form to discuss.

Lowery’s plan had proposed leaving all current city employees – vested and unvested – in the city’s current plan and putting any newly hired city employees as of January 2016 in the hybrid plan.

Municipal union leaders favored Lowery’s alternative. Memphis Fire Fighters Association president Thomas Malone said he was “shocked and appalled” by Halbert’s plan.

“We will see you in court if you do this,” Malone told the council.

In other action Tuesday, council members approved an economic impact plan for the 120-acre Graceland campus in Whitehaven that includes a tax increment financing district and tourism development zone as well as an additional tourism surcharge to finance the three-phase plan.

The plan includes the 450-room $70 million Graceland hotel and resort as well as a recently opened archive center and longer range plans for an ambitious remake of the plaza area on Elvis Presley Boulevard to include restaurants, shops and entertainment venues.

All three phases are on land already owned by Elvis Presley Enterprises. The zone for both the TIF and TDZ to recapture incremental property tax revenue and sales tax revenue respectively is also within the campus itself. And the surcharge would only be charged on items bought on the campus as well.

The plan goes to county commissioners Wednesday for discussion in committee sessions.

The council also approved Tuesday on the first of three readings an ordinance that would regulate UBER and LYFT ride services as well as make changes to the city’s taxi rules and regulations geared toward establishing similar if not the same rules across the two competing sectors.

The council also approved accepting $450,000 in state funding for the processing of rape kits by Memphis Police. And the council approved an additional $1.5 million in funding from the city’s mixed drink tax revenue toward the effort to clear the rape kit backlog.

Council members also approved $1 million in funding toward another police recruit class to augment $2 million the administration had already allocated toward the class in the current fiscal year.

And the council approved the city’s first residential parking zone in the Overton Square area after residents on Monroe Avenue between N. Cooper and Cox Streets petitioned for such a zone.

The petition among at least 75 percent of the residents on the street is a provision of the one-year trial program the council approved earlier this year.

The residents can buy parking permits at $50 a year to park on the north side of Monroe between Cox and Cooper with 60 percent of the south side of Monroe allocated for free public parking under a compromise authored by council member Kemp Conrad. As part of the agreement Kelly English, owner of Restaurant Iris, which is also on that stretch of Monroe, agrees to pay half of the permit cost for the residents for the first year.

The council also approved Michael Putt as the new Memphis Fire Director Tuesday. Putt had been deputy director of fire services. He succeeds Alvin Benson, who is the new Shelby County Fire Chief.

PROPERTY SALES 50 226 2,557
MORTGAGES 44 145 1,731
BUILDING PERMITS 204 569 5,701