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VOL. 129 | NO. 53 | Tuesday, March 18, 2014

City Council Continues Pension Talks

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Council members continue their discussions Tuesday, March 18, about the city’s unfunded pension liability as well as possible changes in city employee heath care benefits.

But there is still no action on any part of the issues on the council agenda for a vote.

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

Council members hear about possible options for changing health care benefits at a lower cost to the city during a 2:30 p.m. executive session. Also on the executive session schedule is more discussion about the unfunded pension liability two weeks after a marathon four-hour discussion by the council with actuaries for the council, the administration of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and municipal unions.

Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson and Tennessee Treasurer David Lillard were also part of the discussion aimed at some consensus on the size of the liability the city is dealing with.


At a 1 p.m. budget committee session, the council discusses a proposal by council member Jim Strickland that would change the street repaving cycle by the city starting with the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Strickland is proposing that the city increase the number of lane miles repaved each year to 337.5 miles, which would create a repaving cycle for streets of once every 20 years. The city is currently repaving 97 lane miles annually, which comes to a 70-year repaving cycle, “which means most Memphians won’t live to see their streets repaved,” reads the resolution offered by Strickland.

The resolution also says the current condition of many city streets is “unacceptable” and requests that Wharton reduce the paving cycle and notes that the council allocated an additional $4.5 million to street repaving in the current fiscal year’s capital budget.

The resolution is another indication that some council members are not going to wait for the administration to present a budget plan in the soon to open budget season. In past budget seasons, Wharton has offered the council budget options instead of strongly pushing a single unified budget plan.

Wharton has indicated the coming budget season will be different because of the unfunded pension liability and his plan for a five-year ramp-up to boost the city’s annual contribution from the current $20 million to $100 million in five fiscal years.

Strickland, meanwhile, has advocated a two-year ramp-up to get to the $100 million level.

On the council’s agenda Tuesday for action is a wholesale fireworks warehouse and distribution center planned development by Spirit of ’76 Fireworks LLC on the southeast corner of B.F. Goodrich Boulevard and Pidgeon Roost Road in the Airport Industrial Park area.

The wholesale operation would be in part of the existing A.S. Barboro Inc. distribution center and the planned development would allow for the storage and wholesale operation involving fireworks. Without the designation, the current Employment District designation doesn’t allow highly flammable explosive materials including fireworks to be warehoused there.

There would be no retail sales to the general public of the fireworks. The business would be the only fireworks warehousing and distribution center in Shelby County, where most fireworks beyond sparklers are banned by local ordinance.

The Office of Planning and Development and Land Use Control Board are recommending the planned development, saying it would not significantly change the use of the industrial park.

Meanwhile, at a 12:30 p.m. committee session, the council reviews plans by the administration to sell city land along the Mississippi River in west Frayser that was once part of the International Harvester plant property. The parcel of land is west of DeWitt Spain Airport and south of Fullen Dock & Warehouse Inc., an intermodal river terminal.

The city acquired the property in October 1984 along with the Harvester plant itself, which the city still uses as its auto impound lot. The sale does not affect the plant building.

The city plans to sell the surplus property for $200,000 to Fullen Dock and Warehouse.

The council votes Tuesday on third and final reading of a prevailing wage ordinance amendment proposed by council member Lee Harris that would expand the wage standards to city contracts starting at $50,000 and align the current ordinance with new state law requirements.

And the council votes on appropriating $22,376 in private funds donated toward planning for a “railroad quiet zone” along Poplar Avenue.

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