VOL. 131 | NO. 110 | Thursday, June 2, 2016
Committee Recommends Pay Raises for City Employees
By Bill Dries
The Memphis City Council’s budget committee completed its budget reviews Tuesday, May 31, recommending a 1.5 percent pay raise for city employees other than fire and police and $300,000 in grant funding to hire a full-time director for the Whitehaven Economic Development Council.
The six-hour budget wrap-up session at City Hall isn’t the last word before a June 7 vote by the full council.
There could still be some proposed changes that go to the full council depending on items that were still being added and subtracted Tuesday evening to determine future shifts in funding.
Memphis Police Department brass still want $1 million put back in the budget for vehicles that the budget committee shifted to Memphis Fire Department vehicles.
In other capital budget items, the committee recommended $1.47 million in extra funding for improvements to Southbrook Mall in Whitehaven, including a new roof and HVAC renovation.
The improvement project stalled several times during the administration of former Mayor A C Wharton over questions about whether such funding could be used for a private business. The mall owners have also sought funding from the Shelby County Commission, which had the same concerns.
The city pay raise proposed Tuesday by budget committee chairman Edmund Ford Jr. as part of the operating budget would cost $1.5 million, which would come from the city’s executive division, or the mayor’s office.
The administration is seeking to find the money from other places as opposed to just one division of city government. Council members will likely want to see where those other places are before they sign off on it.
With nine of the 13 council members attending the budget wrap-up, Ford’s resolution had the seven votes it would need to pass before the full council on June 7.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland had already proposed 2.7 percent and 3.7 percent pay raises for police and firefighters in his April budget proposal. The percentage raise in that proposal is based on years of service to the city.
The $300,000 in grant funding for the Whitehaven Economic Development Corp. drew support across council district lines as a big step toward carrying out an “Aerotropolis” plan for the airport area.
It is also linked to such Whitehaven economic development plums as the $90 million Guest House at Graceland resort hotel and the $9 million renovation of Methodist South Hospital’s emergency department.
The concept is to better plan future development around Memphis International Airport.
The development corporation would oversee that with greater autonomy and a full-time director, said James Robinson, current leader of the corporation and CEO of Methodist South Hospital.
“We want to make sure that area is sustainable,” Robinson told council members, citing support from the Greater Memphis Chamber and other civic leaders as well as businesses in Whitehaven and the airport area.
Several grant requests were rejected, including one from Heritage Hardwood Classic – a series of for-profit basketball tournaments based in Chicago with a nonprofit proposal to promote historically black colleges and universities.
Organizers of the tournament didn’t even get to the amount they wanted to request after being riddled with questions about whether the undertaking was really nonprofit.
“Put your house in order,” said council member Joe Brown. “You need to stop right now.”
Make a Difference Inc. began with a $1 million ask to expand its alcohol, drug and mental health treatment programs and case work for ex-offenders.
Leaders of the effort quickly amended that to $50,000 or $75,000 which made matters even worse.
“I appreciate you modifying it,” Ford said. “I don’t appreciate you giving it to me at the last second. It’s not fair to this body.”
No council member moved to grant any amount to the program.
Stop Inc., a Hickory Hill combination of recording studio, tennis courts and computers, was already on shaky ground.
“It was like I just ran a marathon in one mile,” council member Berlin Boyd said of the many roles. “I don’t know what we’re doing.”
The council got three different budget figures for the undertaking, but did not move to grant any amount.