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VOL. 129 | NO. 13 | Monday, January 20, 2014

Council to Get Updates on City Expense Cuts

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Council members get a closer look Tuesday, Jan. 21, at some ways the city can reallocate $80 million over the next five fiscal years to begin paying $100 million annually toward an unfunded pension liability the city estimates is at $709 million.

The City Council will discuss a strategic fiscal management assessment.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

The “strategic fiscal management assessment” is by financial advisers with Public Financial Management.

The council discussion will be at the 1:30 p.m. council executive session at City Hall, 125 N. Main St.

The council’s main Tuesday session starts at 3:30 p.m.

Follow the meeting @tdnpols, www.twitter.com/tdnpols.

A summary of some of the PFM suggestions distributed to council members two weeks ago totals $284.1 million overall. The bulk of that – $247.4 million – is in cutting expenses with measures like lowering the city’s health care premium costs with changes in health care plans for city employees, eliminating education incentives like tuition reimbursement for city employees and going to a flat dollar figure for longevity pay.

The largest dollar item over the five-year period would be $40.6 million PFM estimates could be cut through strategic reductions to the city’s workforce.

Council members have had the discussion before and will probably be listening closely for details on whether such a strategic reduction means laying off city employees or not filling vacant positions and cutting the city’s payroll through attrition.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and city Chief Administrative Officer George Little told council members two weeks ago that they plan to explore better use of technology to perform jobs now being done by more city employees than would be needed with the technology.

Council members will also be listening for any details that involve outsourcing city duties to private contractors – historically a concept that results in lots of debate among council members on both sides of the issue.

The second largest dollar item on the PFM list for the five-year ramp-up period to $100 million is $35.4 million through a “restructure” of the Emergency Medical Service system of the Memphis Fire Department.

Wharton has talked over several budget seasons at City Hall about finding a way to reallocate equipment and manpower in the city’s firehouses to reflect that most of the calls for service to the department are for medical needs addressed by EMS.

He has also pushed for less expensive vehicles to serve as first responders to such emergencies. Two years ago, the city’s budget included cutting four ladder trucks.

When Wharton explored the idea of closing a firehouse on Danny Thomas Boulevard north of Chelsea Avenue in North Memphis last year, area residents packed the council committee room to protest the move.

The firehouse remains open but the department shifted equipment out of it to nearby stations.

Wharton has been vocal in his response to critics of the fire department changes in the past. Those critics have included the Memphis Fire Fighters Association, which has been the most vocal among the municipal unions in questioning Wharton’s estimate of the size of the unfunded pension liability. The union hired its own actuary who put the liability at less than half of the city’s estimate – $300 million.

Wharton, in a July appearance on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines,” said those critical of the fire department’s cuts in the current fiscal year’s budget were “fear mongers.”

“This is through not replacing individuals who were leaving anyway,” he said at the time. “We are going to keep the response time within the acceptable standards so there is no risk.”

Meanwhile at an 11 a.m. committee session, council members will discuss the anti-blight grant program for “tax dead” properties that Shelby County Commissioners approved last week. The resolution passed on the county side now goes to the Tennessee Attorney General for review under terms of the enabling state legislation that allows for anti-blight programs.

At the 3:30 p.m. session, council members take up third and final reading Tuesday of an ordinance that would extend the city’s prevailing wage ordinance to city contracts of $50,000 or more.

The council delayed a final vote on the measure two weeks ago questioning the status of local ordinances on prevailing wage standards after action by the Tennessee Legislature on prevailing wage and living wage local requirements in the 2013 legislative session in Nashville.

Also on the agenda, council members vote on closing Carroll Avenue, a side street near Danny Thomas Boulevard and Poplar Avenue. ALSAC, the fundraising arm of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and Memphis Foods LLC are seeking the closing of the street for a future expansion of the nearby Ronald McDonald House, a residential apartment complex for patients at the hospital and their families who have extended stays at the hospital.

Closing Carroll makes a block for the future expansion across what are now several separate parcels.

And the council will vote on $529,436 in state grant funds for the Walker Avenue Streetscape project near the University of Memphis.

PROPERTY SALES 0 133 1,342
MORTGAGES 0 131 1,047