Council Opens City Hall Budget Season

By Bill Dries

Memphis City Council members opened budget hearings Tuesday, May 2, hearing from city Chief Financial Officer Brian Collins.

With an eye on the clock in the City Council committee room and rap of a gavel, council budget committee chairman Edmund Ford Jr. opened city budget hearings Tuesday, May 2.

“This is going to be kind of boring,” Ford said of the two afternoons spent by the committee on Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s capital budget -- $158.9 million in spending on one-time non-recurring items, mostly construction projects done in several phases over several years.

That is compared to a city operating budget proposal of $680 million that the budget committee begins hearings on Thursday.

“We believe that they are projects that are going to fit and enhance the city’s economic development strategy, leverage private funds and state and federal funds,” city chief financial officer Brian Collins told council members of the capital budget.

Some council members have indicated they will at least question those priorities if not propose changes to them.

The largest of the three areas where capital revenue comes from is $77.8 million in general obligation bonds with another $22 million in federal grants and $59.1 million in a pay as you go sewer fund, funded by sewer fees.

Funding to the tune of $9.8 million left over from the current fiscal year that ends June 30 for an overhaul of the local emergency and public safety radio system also drew attention.

“It’s going to pick up momentum in the coming fiscal year and the one after,” Collins said of the undertaking.

City chief operation officer Doug McGowen said initial estimates of a $60 million to $80 million cost to the city for the upgrade have come down in the last year as the city has negotiated. It’s now closer to $50 million total with more negotiations underway and bids to be unsealed.

The city and county governments are sharing the cost with the city paying the larger share that amounts to two-thirds of whatever the ultimate cost is.

Council member Patrice Robinson noting funding for capital improvements at two Shelby County Schools buildings in the budget wants a running tally of the city funding that goes to Shelby County Schools or to programs used by SCS students away from school.

Robinson wants to counter criticism of the city for no ongoing local funding of SCS beyond a legal settlement the city continues to pay to the school system for cutting funding to the legacy Memphis City Schools system in 2008. The capital funding for the schools is part of the settlement.

The Tuesday session also marked the return of council member Janis Fullilove to City Hall after an illness and absence of several months.