VOL. 130 | NO. 43 | Wednesday, March 4, 2015
Council Delays Financial Votes, Approves Beale Street Authority
By Bill Dries
Memphis City Council members approved a $4.5 million advance Tuesday, March 3, for the Memphis Area Transit Authority to get past a cash flow problem.
But the council delayed for two weeks a vote on a larger mid-fiscal year budget adjustment for city government in general.
The council also delayed a vote Tuesday on a resolution that makes it a policy that the city will be fully funding its pension fund annual required contribution within five years.
The policy is already a state law.
But council member Jim Strickland pushed for the delay in approving the policy because he wants the city to get to the $74 million annual ARC payment by the end of the fiscal year that starts July 1, not in 2020.
The council votes on the policy at its May 19 meeting, the first council meeting after Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. presents his budget proposal for the coming fiscal year.
“I think we need to be more aggressive than what I expect the budget is going to show,” Strickland said.
City Finance Director Brian Collins argued the delay and a move to a shorter time frame for fully funding its annual contribution limits the city’s flexibility.
“Quite frankly, I can think of no set of circumstances where this council would want to give up that flexibility for no particular reason,” Collins said.
In other action, the council hired the municipal finance advisors firm Public Financial Management – or PFM – to review the administration’s plan to restructure city debt payments and report its recommendations to the council in two weeks.
The administration is proposing a restructuring of the debt payments that would move a balloon payment of $30 million due in fiscal year 2020 – the same fiscal year the city is supposed to reach full funding of its pension ARC – to a later fiscal year.
Council chairman Myron Lowery said he will push for a council vote on the restructuring proposal in two weeks as well, citing changing financial conditions that scuttled a previous city effort to restructure its debt payments.
The council will likely spend several hours during the March 17 council day in committee reviewing the PFM recommendations to come. Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson is also expected to be at City Hall that day as well to talk with council members before the vote at the afternoon council session.
Wilson endorsed the administration’s restructuring proposal two years after expressing concern about the city’s 2010 debt restructuring.
Meanwhile, the council approved on third and final reading an ordinance creating a Beale Street Tourism Development Authority to guide the direction of future development in the entertainment district and hire a day-to-day manager of the district between Second and Fourth Streets.
The council amended the proposal to make the nine-member authority board an eleven-member board to include two merchants in the district.
The members of the board are to be appointed by the mayor and the appointments confirmed by the city council.
Council members also approved $1.5 million in funding Tuesday for infrastructure work around and at the Southbrook Mall in Whitehaven. The additional capital funding in the current fiscal year’s budget is not for roof and HVAC repairs the owners of the mall have sought from the city in the past.
The city is exploring $2.1 million in federal bonds for energy efficiency for those improvements and the mall owners have applied for the bonds.
The council vote on the funding Tuesday was 8-3 in favor, reflecting concerns some council members have about the nonprofit group that owns the mall.
The group, headed by Willie Harper, wanted the city funding for what would have been a prohibited private use. When Wharton and his administration proposed converting the mall to a town center with some city government facilities at the mall, the ownership group rejected the idea, initially saying it only wanted the roof and HVAC repairs.
The administration said Tuesday the capital funding to work on the parking lot, sidewalks and similar areas is a “good faith” gesture to the owners of the mall.
The council also rejected Tuesday a cemetery at the site of the old Moose Lodge at 4033 Raleigh Millington Road south of Tessland Avenue after several homeowners showed up to oppose it.
A vote on a special use permit for a used car lot at 1780 Getwell Road was delayed for a second time for two weeks by the council. And the council approved a special use permit for a scrap dealer at 1808 Chelsea Avenue on Kilowatt Lake.
And for a fifth time, the council delayed votes on third and final reading on ordinances that would establish new city regulations for taxi cabs as well as ride-sharing services in Memphis. The two ordinances return to the council’s agenda in two weeks.