VOL. 132 | NO. 90 | Friday, May 5, 2017
Boyd: Memphis Public Safety Spending Out of Balance
By Bill Dries
Memphis City Council chairman Berlin Boyd says the city budget is lopsided when it comes to its priorities.
And Boyd called Wednesday, May 3, for a shift away from public safety spending – specifically city spending on police – the largest single part of the operating and capital budgets as well as the largest division in city government.
“When you look at our budget and how much we spend on public safety, it’s really weighted toward one side,” Boyd said as the council budget committee reviewed the police capital budget on the second of two days of hearings on Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s overall capital budget proposal.
Police services also totals 39 percent of general fund expenditures in Strickland’s operating budget proposal – or $261.8 million of the proposed $667.4 million. The general fund makes up most of the proposed $680 million operating budget.
Fire services are another 26 percent – or $172.3 million of the general fund expenditures.
In the proposed capital budget for the new fiscal year, there is $2.8 million for fire services and $4 million for police.
“We can spend $40 million on radios,” Boyd said at another point as the council discussed capital spending for a new radio network for police, fire and emergency responders. “But we’re not able to take care of people. That’s what I drive home. When it comes down to paving the roads, providing them services in their community centers, it’s just difficult. We’ve just got to figure something out.”
Boyd’s call demonstrates different opinions on what Strickland has called being “brilliant at the basics” and what Boyd called “driving more money into our communities.”
The top priority in Strickland’s version of basic services is increasing the size of the Memphis police force.
Boyd’s version is centered on programs at community centers.
“A lot of people say I’m not getting anything for my tax dollars,” Boyd said. “Right now, our kids are running rampant because they don’t have programming in those parks and community centers.”
Councilman Worth Morgan touted a drop in police response time and the time it takes to answer 911 calls.
“We are trying to get the response time down,” he said. “Our infrastructure can’t quite handle the job.”
The committee votes on the line items for a 911 call center upgrade, the radio system funding and police and fire capital plans overall were unanimous despite the discussion.
Councilman Martavius Jones questioned how much Memphians pay for the call center upgrade but said the need for public safety carried the day for him as he called for “looking at public safety as not just a city border thing.”
In other capital budget items, the city’s plan for an “I Am A Man Plaza” on a lot south of Clayborn Temple includes the addition of a second site, said city chief operating officer Doug McGowen. The second “site of reflection” will be at Second Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.
The corner was part of the route that marchers in the 1968 sanitation workers strike took from Clayborn Temple to City Hall.
Jones continues to question the city’s share of joint projects, arguing Memphis taxpayers pay twice in city-county partnerships because Memphians also pay county taxes.
“Is this déjà vu from last year?” Jones began as he made the point again Wednesday in his second budget season as a council member. “Right now, if we do things half and half, Memphis picks up 80 percent of the tab.”
The city’s total cost to repair broken sewage pipes that leaked raw sewage into McKellar Lake a year ago was $19.5 million, according to city public works division director Robert Knecht. State environmental officials have assessed $7,000 in fines in connection with the spill. Knecht said the city is appealing and takes the position it should pay half or less of that amount.
And 15 new Memphis Area Transit Authority buses, which the council approved extra funding for a year ago, hit the streets this week, said MATA interim CEO Gary Rosenfeld.
Rosenfeld also said the transit authority is beginning to consider a new headquarters building to replace the problem-plagued MATA headquarters on Levee Road in North Memphis. The hope, he said, is to relocate in two to three years.
Built on a landfill, the headquarters has been plagued for decades by a sinking and shifting of both the foundation and the parking lots.
“There have been some wild stories from the past about things happening on the property,” Rosenfeld said. “I’m not going to say it’s not difficult.”
Councilman Joe Brown, who once worked for MATA, said, “It was a beautiful facility when it opened. All of a sudden the ghost of the landfill surfaced.”