VOL. 132 | NO. 83 | Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Strickland Delivers $680 Million Operating Budget to Council
By Bill Dries
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland delivered a $680 million city government operating budget proposal to the Memphis City Council Tuesday, April 25, with no property tax increase and no use of city reserves to balance it.
The budget shows up on the city books with a total amount of $668.7 million because of state accounting measures for road funding. But Strickland said later that without that adjustment the budget proposal comes to $680 million.
Strickland put an expansion of funding for city services aimed at teenagers and young adults as well as jobs programs at the top of his list of priorities for continuing his administration’s goal of being “brilliant at the basics.”
The budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1 includes $18.5 million for street paving which is $2 million more in the current budget. Strickland also touted longer hours for libraries as well as opening some branches on Friday that had been closed on that day.
Strickland also touted the first year of the budget strategy of paving streets, fighting blight and anti-crime measures with a larger police force as the top priority in that area, adding “Take that for data,” at the end of the statistics.
The borrowed battle cry of Memphis Grizzlies coach David Fizdale came hours before game 5 of the NBA playoffs round between the Grizzlies and the San Antonio Spurs in San Antonio
Strickland said there may not be a repeat of last year’s budget deliberations in which the council approved his first budget proposal as mayor with no amendments and with a unanimous vote after seven minutes of consideration.
“This year’s budget was much more challenging for us than last year,” Strickland said later, noting that at the outset of putting together the budget it was $47 million dollars in the red and $16 million in the red after he made his first run at the work of his division directors.
The completed budget proposal is $12 million more than the current fiscal year’s budget and that additional amount will be covered by anticipated growth in revenue streams.
“Last year we laid a foundation with that collaborative spirit and we adopted a budget that defined what I mean and you mean by being brilliant at the basics,” Strickland said. “This budget proposal … continues on that foundation and moves forward to making ours a stronger Memphis by sustaining that reorganization around core city services.”
Memphis Police would get 1 to 2 percent pay raises, depending on how long officers have been on the force, as retention bonuses that include an agreement to remain on the force for a certain number of years.
Strickland proposes putting $55.1 million toward the city’s pension fund liability which is 88 percent of the required annual contribution the state requires the city make by the year 2020. If approved, the ARC contribution would put the city five percentage points ahead of the state’s milestone at this point in the five-year ramp up to fully funding it in 2020.
Strickland is also proposing $77.8 million in capital spending in the new fiscal year – one time spending on construction projects and similar undertakings that are normally financed with bonds.
Storm water and sewer fees will increase a total of about $5 per household per month in the new budget. The fees are going up as the city continues to meet a federal court consent decree mandating sewer improvements as well as flood control measures through replacing crumbling and outdated infrastructure.
Still being debated is one of four options for changing solid waste pickup – only one of which would keep the monthly solid waste fee at $22.80 a month. The other three options raise it to between $25.05 and $32.80.
Because of the 2017 reappraisal of property for tax purposes, Strickland did not propose a specific tax rate. The city council will approve a recertified rate, based on the reappraisal, that brings in the same amount of revenue the city currently gets from the existing property tax rate of $3.40. Because residential and commercial values have increased, the recertified rate will be lower.
And Strickland said that lower rate the Assessor’s office is expected to deliver next month will be the one he recommends to the council.
Council members meanwhile began moving the ordinances and resolutions that set the tax rate and the budgets during Tuesday committee sessions. Thus far, all of the measures are placeholders that have no proposed figures in them. If there are no delays in consideration of the measures, the final council votes on the budget and tax rate should be at the June 20 council meeting after about six weeks of budget hearings.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the council approved on the first of three readings the Pinch District concept plan for the nine-block area between the Pyramid and the campus of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
And the council approved a resolution that refinances the city’s debt for Pyramid Redevelopment through a loan from the Economic Development Growth Engine organization. The debt is to be paid with Downtown Tourism Development Zone revenue.
The action drew no votes from council members Martavius Jones, Joe Brown, Patrice Robinson and Jamita Swearengen.
Jones was a vocal critic of the low level of minority and local participation by bond counsel and other finance professionals including underwriters, saying the administration could have done a better job and that the refinancing overlooked local attorneys who had worked on previous refinancing deals for the city.
“Professional services is low-hanging fruit. The will is not there to do it,” Jones said in a committee session earlier in the council day. “If I’ve got to run for mayor to improve black participation I will. I don’t want to.”
Council chairman Berlin Boyd, whose district includes the Pinch area, voted for the measure but also expressed his displeasure.
“We don’t own Bank of America and First Tennessee,” he said. “But there are a ton of African-American attorneys.”
Boyd said he would vote against future deals like Tuesday’s
“For me it hasn’t moved fast enough,” he said of minority participation. “But it’s moving. I am extending a branch to the administration.”
In other action Tuesday, the council approved a special use permit for the conversion of Central Station to a hotel. The hotel will be a Curio By Hilton brand. The council also approved a rehabilitation facility on Austin Peay Highway north of Singleton Parkway that includes other retail uses as well.
A vote on a convenience store/gas station on South Parkway East at Interstate 240 was delayed by the developers after the development drew opposition from the Land Use Control Board before reaching the council.
The council gave the greenlight to $788,500 in funding for installation of a plaza south of Clayborn Temple called Martin Luther King-I Am A Man Plaza. The plaza is being built by the city for next year’s 50th anniversary of the assassination of the civil rights leader. The church was a center of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and into the 1970s. Many of the protest marches of the 1968 sanitation workers strike that brought King to Memphis started outside Clayborn Temple.
The plaza is on land currently used for parking and the city will spend another $1 million for landscaping and other improvements.
The council also approved Tuesday the purchase of an old railroad right of way for $170,000 near Central Avenue and East Parkway that will become part of Spanish-American War Park on the southwest corner of the intersection.
And the council approved $475,811 in funding for a Mud Island dog park.