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VOL. 132 | NO. 89 | Thursday, May 4, 2017

Council Moves to Operating Budget Examination

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Council members open budget hearings Thursday, May 5, on Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s $680 million operating budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

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

(Daily News/Bill Dries)

If the council budget committee discussions during two days of hearings on Strickland’s smaller $158.9 million capital budget are any indication, there will continue to be questions about Strickland’s priorities.

The capital budget discussions included long-held concerns by some on the council about whether those not living in Memphis should pay more to use city facilities – in this case the Memphis Zoo.

Council chairman Berlin Boyd renewed a push for a zoo surcharge and questioned why the UrbanArt Commission doesn’t use more local artists and more African-American local artists.

At least for now, there was no visible dissent to plans for more bike lanes that the council has seen in past capital budget seasons.

The capital budget funds one-time non-recurring items, mostly construction projects done over several years.

“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.

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.

$9.8 million left over from the current fiscal year that ends June 30 going toward 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 overhaul.

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

City and county governments are sharing the cost, with the city paying two-thirds of the total.

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

Robinson wants to counter criticism of the city for not funding SCS beyond a legal settlement the city continues to pay to SCS for cutting funding to the legacy Memphis City Schools system in 2008. The capital funding for the schools is part of the settlement.

The Strickland administration is also considering matching funds that NBA player and Memphis native Thaddeus Young is pledging for a youth program in southwest Memphis.

The Young for Youth Foundation is proposing to move into two buildings near Mitchell High School that were once home to Head Start and Health Loop programs.

The area is part of the city-county Greenprint effort. Plans are to buy-out homeowners gradually in that area in the Cypress Creek flood plain and reconfigure the neighborhood to make Mitchell High, its community center, Ford Road Elementary School and Weaver Road Park a hub for the residential area.

PROPERTY SALES 57 94 2,713
MORTGAGES 16 37 1,820
BUILDING PERMITS 303 621 6,322
BANKRUPTCIES 138 138 1,115