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VOL. 129 | NO. 88 | Tuesday, May 6, 2014

City Council to Review Police Budget

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Council members talk with their actuary Tuesday, May 6, about the city’s pension liability crisis as the council budget committee takes a first look at the Memphis Police Department’s budget.

The council meets at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, 125 N. Main St. Follow the meeting on Twitter at @tdnpols.

The agenda doesn’t include any votes on proposed remedies for the city’s unfunded pension liability. However, the council gets the views of Segal Consulting of Atlanta, the actuary firm it hired to advise it on the best path forward on the liability issues. The firm will go over various options during the 1:30 p.m. executive session.

Memphis City Council members begin their review of the police department budget proposal Tuesday, the largest of the division budgets.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

And at 8 a.m., the council budget committee resumes sessions it began last week with a critical review of the Memphis Police Department budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The police department budget is the largest of any city division, and it has the most employees.

As the city comes to grips with an unfunded pension liability that Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s administration estimates at more than $700 million, most council members agree the police and fire departments likely will feel some impact from meeting that liability. That includes upping the city’s annual required contribution from the current $20 million to $100 million.

Wharton favors a ramp-up over five fiscal years. But council chairman Jim Strickland is among the council members advocating a two-year ramp-up that makes the decisions before the October 2015 city elections.

The budget committee so far has made tentative budget cuts of more than $12 million, in addition to the $15 million health insurance changes the administration has proposed that would be the first of five installments in its ramp-up.

Wharton indicated last week that he doesn’t approve of the council’s tentative cuts beyond that.

At this point, the council cuts are preliminary recommendations of the committee and are not binding on the full council.

Based on the process and council practices in past budget seasons, the total of the cuts could change dramatically as council members add funding to programs and projects, thus lowering the net dollar amount.

And any cuts ultimately live or die based on whether they have seven votes on the full council. In recent budget seasons, that has been a line item by line item vote.

The opening of budget committee hearings last week, chaired by council member Lee Harris, drew seven to nine council members at various points during the daylong session.

Council members also discuss for the first time Tuesday a proposal to change the city’s deferred option retirement plan benefits, another piece of City Hall’s discussion about pension and benefit changes.

The discussion is during a 7:45 a.m. committee session.

On the council agenda is the first of three readings on the ordinance setting the city’s property tax rate for the fiscal year that begins July 1. At this stage, the rate in the ordinance is considered a placeholder.

Meanwhile, council members have their first discussion at the 7:45 a.m. committee session about a solution to Overton Square’s recent parking problems.

Council chairman Jim Strickland is proposing an ordinance that would set up a one-year trial program for residential parking permits on streets in the entertainment district, where 75 percent of the residents petition the city for permits.

The proposal emerged from talks Strickland had with area residents and business owners about parking problems, in particular on Monroe Avenue east of North Cooper Street.

Other parts of the discussion include reserved parking in the nearby city-financed Overton Square parking garage for businesses, as well as crosswalks at Monroe leading to the street that includes Restaurant Iris and The Second Line.

The council votes Tuesday on $250,000 in city funding for a Memphis Music Hall of Fame operated by the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum at the Lansky Building as part of the relocation of the Hard Rock Cafe to the building at the corner of Second and Beale streets.

The city funding for the current fiscal year would be the first of two $250,000 installments toward the $1.2 million proposal, which includes private funding in which the hall of fame would have a free sublease from Hard Rock. The Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum would remain at FedExForum.

The initial $250,000 would come from federal money the city has had for decades that is part of the federal government’s settlement of aborted plans to extend Interstate 40 through Overton Park.

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