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VOL. 132 | NO. 251 | Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Council Delays MLGW Rate Hike Vote to Wednesday

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Council members meet again Wednesday, Dec. 20, to vote on Memphis Light Gas and Water Divisions proposals to raise water, gas and electricity rates starting next month.

The council was debating the 1.05 percent water rate hike proposal at its regularly scheduled Tuesday session when chairman Berlin Boyd announced the meeting would recess until 4 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall. It came as council members had a lot of questions about possible alternatives to the rate hikes across all three sectors of the publicly-owned utility.

Council member Edmund Ford Jr., in particular, wanted to confer with council attorney Allan Wade on possible alternative proposals.

“Right now, I just don’t think it’s the time to support any rate increase,” he said.

Ford is exploring some offsets through switching fees that could replace rate hikes. It’s the kind of offset Ford proposed three years ago when he switched the cost of streetlights from a budget item to a fee citizens pay on their MLGW bill.

But Ford said the offset hasn’t worked correctly. He called for greater caution and more questions before the council moves in such a direction again.

The estimated $1 million in additional revenue created by the water rate hike would go toward better mapping of the windows or holes in the clay barrier above the city’s Memphis Sands water supply.

The gas and rate hikes proposed would go toward the utility having 90 days of cash on hand in each division.

A council committee is recommending an electricity rate hike of 2.3 percent for each of the next three years. And the same committee is recommending a gas rate hike of 4.5 percent for each of the next two years.

The utility offered the council several options for those two rate hikes including doing all of the increases in a single year.

Meanwhile, Council members approved a resolution Tuesday that declares its intent to work with other partners toward increased funding, specifically for prekindergarten services.

The resolution by council member Kemp Conrad comes as different community groups are organizing to come up with at least enough additional revenue to replace the funding from a federal grant that runs out in 2019 for 1,000 pre-k seats.

The resolution doesn’t set a dollar amount goal or specify how the revenue would be raised.

It comes five years after two attempts at a sales tax hike – countywide and in the city of Memphis – were each voted down by voters in referendums.

Council member Bill Morrison is among those on the council who wants to see a broader effort toward dealing with the effects of poverty on children of all ages.

“Why aren’t we asking for a true fight on poverty?” he said. “This is miniscule. This is nothing. This council over its years has shown that when we back whole change, the city changes direction.”

Morrison said he is not opposed to more funding for prekindergarten. And Conrad said he’s not opposed to the broader goals.

But Conrad fears a broader call could be less effective.

“I think we send a message to the other funding bodies … the city is going to be at the table,” he said of the prekindergarten discussions that involves nonprofits, foundations, agencies and other government entities.

“We’d like to know if the policy-making body of the city of Memphis supports this initiative,” Conrad said.

A coordinated appeal that includes a commitment to find the funding first and then get specific about revenue sources amounts to not putting all of the path forward on another try for a sales tax increase on the 2018 ballot.

“If those fail, we have no plan for funding in 2019,” he said of the tax referendums.

Morrison withdrew his amendment to set broader goals beyond prekindergarten and pledged to introduce a separate resolution on pursuing those matters.

In other action Tuesday, the council voted down plans by developer Alan Mathis to build 20-25 “luxury condos” in a gated community on six acres of open land on Tchulahoma Road near Memphis International Airport.

Neither Mathis nor a representative of Mathis showed up for the council session and were also absent when the Land Use Control Board took up the matter earlier.

The LUCB recommended rejection.

The council normally postpones an item when a land use applicant misses a meeting.

The council also approved a set of eight donations totaling $69,820 for eight sets of SkyCop anti-crime cameras at different locations including the Wolf River Greenway trailhead at Epping Way in Raleigh, New Horizons Apartments, Westminster Academy, the Callis Creek neighborhood, the Regions Bank Cordova/Macon branch, National Guard Products, Olymbec warehouses at Norbrook Drive and East Brooks Road, and Jesus People Church and Worship Center.

PROPERTY SALES 93 424 6,970
MORTGAGES 42 281 4,410
BUILDING PERMITS 196 704 16,619
BANKRUPTCIES 38 174 3,570