VOL. 133 | NO. 8 | Wednesday, January 10, 2018
Council Rejects MLGW Gas, Electric Rate Hikes, Dumps Frayser Landfill
By Bill Dries
Memphis City Council members voted down proposed electric and gas rate hikes Tuesday, Jan. 9. But they left the door open to either reconsidering that or some shorter term rate hikes by delaying for two weeks approval of Memphis Light Gas and Water Division’s annual budget.
The operating budget is based in part on rate revenue.
The council also reconsidered its rejection last month of a water rate hike of 1.05 percent and approved it Tuesday. The rate hike revenue of approximately $1 million is to be used to map water aquifers that are the source of the city’s water supply.
The proposed gas rate hike was 9 percent over several years; 6.9 percent for the electric rate hike also over several years.
A majority of council members were upset that they didn’t find out about the proposed rate hike until the end of November while bond-rating agencies got word of it in September.
Council member Philip Spinosa is working on either an ordinance or a city charter change referendum that would require at least six months notice to the council when MLGW proposes a rate hike.
But a vocal minority of council members said the defeat of the rate hikes, if it stands, will mean more problems with power outages and recovery from storms that knock out power around the city with the resulting cutback of capital spending.
MLGW president Jerry Collins said the impact of the defeated rate hikes, if it stands, would be a dramatic cut in capital spending on those kinds of projects. Collins also suggested a one year rate hike as a compromise with the utility’s new president making decisions about what to do with rates beyond that.
Collins retires as head of the city-owned utility at the end of January.
Council members also set the stage for a first move toward de-annexing areas of the city with a first vote in two weeks.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said the effort will begin with a proposed de-annexation of an area of Eads on the south side of Highway 64 with 172 people living there in 67 houses and an uninhabited flood plain area in southwest Memphis.
The first vote in two weeks would be on a resolution basically announcing the city’s intent. A final council vote on the terms of the de-annexation including a transition of services to county government and a settlement of a share of city debt and pension obligations would be May 20. Residents of the areas to be de-annexed would then have 75 days to formally object to the de-annexation.
There is no definite date for the de-annexations to take effect.
In other action, the council unanimously voted down an expansion of a Memphis Wrecking Co. construction landfill in Frayser with no debate. The expansion, which would have taken the landfill fronting on Highway 51 to near Whitney Achievement School, moved ahead to a vote despite word from Memphis Wrecking last week that it was considering alternate sites.
But meetings in those areas, including Hickory Hill, drew vocal opposition from residents there.
After voting down the landfill, the council unanimously approved an immediate six-month moratorium on permits and certificates for any new construction landfill proposal in the city. That includes landfills on land already zoned for such a use. The “by right” use would otherwise not require a council vote.
In other planning and development items, the council approved a three-lot subdivision by JBJ Properties LLC on South Claybrook south of Larkin Avenue and west of Cleveland Street.
The council set a Jan. 23 public hearing and vote on the Dwell at Shelby Farms mixed use development on the north side of Raleigh-LaGrange Road near the dead end of Trinity Road.
At the busy first council session of 2018, council members also approved on the second of three readings a referendum for the November ballot on eliminating the runoff provision in single-member district council races in the city charter.
A vote on third and final reading of another November ballot question that, if approved, would extend the current limit of two consecutive terms for the mayor and council members to three terms was delayed for two weeks.
After a stormy executive session discussion Tuesday with Karen Golightly, the founder of the Paint Memphis program, about the program’s murals, council members began drafting an email to the city Public Works Division requesting that the city paint over several of the murals undertaken by the nonprofit.
Golightly defended the murals and the artists. Council member Jamita Swearengen was critical of the art and the program for not collaborating with area residents particularly in the Rozelle-Annesdale area. That included several of those residents who said they didn’t like the images on Lamar Avenue, particularly one of a zombie-like figure.
Golightly said the murals are open to interpretation and that inevitably some will like them and others will not. Swearengen and council chairman Berlin Boyd said the images were demonic and should instead by hopeful and uplifting.
The council also gave final approval Tuesday to new ground rules for the artists selected by the UrbanArt Commission for other public art projects. The changes in the ordinance came after council members said last year more local artists should be used and those living in communities where the art is planned should be consulted more.
The council withheld city funding critical to the commission as the new rules were discussed and drafted.
The council is expected to vote in two weeks on a restoration of the city funding.