Final Budget, Tax-Rate Votes Lead Council Agenda

By Bill Dries

Memphis City Council members have a few loose ends that could be cleared up in Tuesday, June 6, committees before votes on 10 resolutions and ordinances that would settle the city’s budget season. (Daily News/Bill Dries)

Memphis City Council members are poised to end their budget season Tuesday, June 6, with a set of votes on four resolutions and six ordinances that are up for third and final reading.

The resolutions and ordinances would approve a roughly $680 million city operating budget and a $77.8 million capital budget, hikes in stormwater and sewer fees and take the city property tax rate from $3.40 to $3.27.

The council meets at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, 125 N. Main St. Follow the meeting @tdnpols,, for live coverage and updates from committee sessions during the council day.

The property tax rate adjustment, approved by the state, is not a tax cut. It is a rate that takes into account the 2017 countywide property reappraisal, in which residential and commercial property values rose, and produces the same amount of revenue for city government that the $3.40 rate did.

The monthly stormwater fee would go from $4.02 per square foot to $4.64 in the new fiscal year that begins July 1.

The sanitary sewer fee would go from a monthly rate of $2.26 to $2.87 based on volume.

In a marathon session last week, the council’s budget committee had a few questions still to be discussed.

With the various amendments made by the budget committee, the budget appeared to be just over $100,000 in the black as of last week. That included some recalculations that the administration concurred on.

The primary change still to be decided is a call by council member Martavius Jones to cut the Memphis Police budget by $7.3 million. It is the amount of funding for 161 unfilled positions in the police department’s budget proposal. Jones and some other council members argue that since the police department will not fill those positions in the new fiscal year, the funding should be either cut entirely or redirected to other parts of city government, or a combination of both.

The council earlier cut police overtime by $2.7 million to fund a 1 percent pay raise for all city employees.

The 1 percent pay raise cost was amended last week to about $300,000 less because some of the jobs affected are funded by city enterprise funds.

Jones’ amendment on the unfilled positions prompted the Memphis-Shelby Crime Commission to urge its backers to contact the council to support the police budget as is, without the cut Jones proposed.

In a Thursday email, the commission statement doesn’t specifically mention the amendment. It called on its supporters to contact council members and urged the council to “show their support for the necessary funding to advance in a meaningful way the staffing needs of MPD and increase police resources available to deploy based on smart, data-driven decision making.”

Meanwhile, the council budget committee also reduced the city court clerk’s budget request last week.

It followed earlier questions from the council to clerk Kay Robilio about contracts with black and minority-owned businesses.

When Robilio replied that her office had an advertising contract with a “man of color,” council chairman Berlin Boyd said the proper term is African-American. The budget committee then immediately voted down the entire budget request.

“I don’t think a lot of people liked the presentation,” council member Edmund Ford Jr. said last week, “But I do, as the chairman of the budget committee, want to see us get done with as many divisions as possible.”

Council members specifically have questions about the amount in Robilio’s budget for materials and supplies that has fluctuated by wide margins over several fiscal years. The most recent monthly expenditures showed only 75 percent of the amount in the current fiscal year has been used through 10 months of the 12-month fiscal year.

The budget committee is recommending a $600,000 cut to the clerk’s materials and supplies line item.

Boyd suggested to Ford having someone with Robilio’s office or Robilio herself at Tuesday’s budget committee session.

“It’s at the will of the body,” Boyd said. “I mean you are a sharp colored man.”

“I think we heard the best presentation we are going to hear,” Ford replied. “I’d be ready to move on.”

The budget committee is also recommending $175,000 in funding for the city council to fund its own events in April 2018 as part of larger plans to mark the 50th anniversary of the sanitation workers strike and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis.

Ford called for council funding of such events, citing the council’s role in the events of 1968.

The sanitation workers strike that brought King to Memphis started that February, less than two months after the new mayor-council form of government had replaced the old city commission form of government.

“It was the legislative body that did things legislatively in 1968 to actually get things done,” Ford said last week. “It wasn’t (Memphis Mayor Henry) Loeb at first, but it was the legislative body that got things done, not just for sanitation workers, but they actually got things done for the city.”

Ford’s amendment to renew a mural program through the UrbanArt Commission to the tune of $300,000 is also part of the amended budget proposal.

“I believe they do good work even though I think when the mural program is brought back up we should have more input on what is put on our libraries, our parks, our community centers.”

Boyd wants all of the funding spent with Memphis artists.

“I don’t want to see someone coming from San Francisco to paint a mural in Westwood or North Memphis. Right here,” he said. “As long as I see money is spent locally in Memphis, I’m happy. Local, minority – that’s all I want to see.”

Council members are scheduled to approve the minutes of their May 23 meeting at the top of Tuesday’s agenda, which would make official the council plan to cut the Saturday spring and summer cover charge on Beale Street from $10 to $5.

The change the council approved does away with the Beale Street Bucks program that includes $8 in coupons to spend at Beale Street businesses for the $10 cover.

Boyd could offer more details of the revised cover charge at the 2 p.m. council executive session as the council discusses more details of a task force it approved in May to review alternatives to a cover charge.

Council members took the action after questioning why the cover charge generated money that was used to make grants instead of just for security costs.

The council has a legal opinion from its attorney, Allan Wade, that says the cover charge is legal but the council must ratify it and the cover charge must be an amount that corresponds to the costs of providing security in the entertainment district.

Strickland and Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings have said the Beale Street Bucks program has been an effective measure that has prevented crowd stampedes that prompted the move to the program.

Strickland has said he is willing to consider all ideas to make the idea work better, including a rare mayoral veto of the drop in the cover charge.

Council approval of the minutes from the May 23 meeting would start the clock ticking on the use of a veto by Strickland.