VOL. 133 | NO. 183 | Friday, September 14, 2018
Edmund Ford Jr. Sticks to Council, Commission Seats As He Pursues Transit Fee
By Bill Dries
Edmund Ford Jr. is pushing for a dedicated revenue stream for the Memphis Area Transit Authority and road projects while holding seats on the Memphis City Council and the Shelby County Commission.
And it could take him through the 90 days he has before he must give up the council seat, Ford said this week.
Ford’s committee assignments given out this week by County Commission chairman Van Turner include the commission’s transportation committee.
“He sees this as a true asset, me being on the council and the commission for this finite period of time,” Ford said of Turner. “That’s the same thing my constituents have said and that they have been saying. … The constituents I represent, for the most part, see this as a true asset and not a liability as far as getting things done.”
Ford plans to pursue something similar for roads and buses on the county side.
“Transit has to be a county issue. It cannot just be exclusively a city issue,” he said. “The work is not going to stop after I finish my tenure here at the City Council.”
Council member Janis Fullilove, who was elected Juvenile Court Clerk in the August county general elections, told the New Tri-State Defender that she has been busy acclimating to her new job as clerk and doesn’t know when she will resign. She said it could be in November, toward the end or at the very end of her 90-day period.
Council member Bill Morrison, who was elected Probate Court Clerk in August and took office Sept. 1, didn’t respond this week when asked about holding the two positions.
Ford is proposing a transportation utility fee to provide a new revenue stream for MATA and road projects. There is no written version of the proposal yet and no votes scheduled.
“It’s undetermined now because council members have concerns,” he said. “Council members also have other ideas. Hopefully those other ideas can garner attention so that we can find dedicated funding for MATA as well as dedicated funding for road paving projects.”
The fee would be on residential and nonresidential property using some kind of formula that assesses the fee based on car trips the property generates by its usage.
Wain Gaskins, West Tennessee director of the civil engineering consulting firm Cannon & Cannon and a former city engineer, told council members this week that no rates have been established yet. But he’s put together some scenarios for a fee structure.
“I’m working with numbers that haven’t been approved by anybody,” Gaskins said. “I can’t emphasize that enough.”
The fee is based on the stormwater fee on monthly utility bills that also uses a formula to determine how much stormwater a property generates.
“Just like the stormwater fee, all parcels would be charged the fee,” he said. “That’s the nature of the beast. You don’t have tax-exempt parcels when you are looking at assessing fees for services.”
Vacant parcels or land without a water meter would not be subject to the fee with the exception of parking lots.
“As far as the nonresidential, you may have a business for instance that generates so much traffic that it generates 30 percent more traffic than any other development in the city,” Gaskins told the council. “Well, they should still pay the most but they shouldn’t necessarily pay 30 percent more than everybody else. That’s where the compression factor comes in.”
He came up with some tentative rate figures to consider based solely on generating different amounts of revenue annually, starting with $30 million and topping out at $62 million.
A “very, very large” church, for example could have a fee of $1,600 to $6,300 per month.
A school could come in at $420 to $1,700 a month based in part on “pass-by trips.”
“You’ve got a lot of people that drive to school,” he said, using a high school as an example. “But then you’ve got about 20 percent – and this is based on national data – where about 20 percent of the students are dropped off and then whoever is driving goes somewhere else. That’s credited in the evaluation of numbers. You can see that in the fast food (restaurant) numbers where it’s up to 50 percent.”
Council member Patrice Robinson said she is opposed to the fee going on the monthly MLGW bill.
“Let me tell you up front, I’m not going to support anything else going on the utility bill,” she said, suggesting the fee could be added to tickets for sports and entertainment events or to county and/or city tax bills.
Council member Worth Morgan said he wants to see some realistic rates before he passes judgment and votes on a fee.
“There are certainly going to be winners and losers and people who are going to pay more into it than what they get out in terms of the value and usage,” he said. “I know we’re trying to work on the numbers. … But it would be hard to vote on anything without the specifics of seeing who is going to be paying exactly what.”
Council member Martavius Jones says there should be some way to assess a fee for those who work in the city but don’t live in the city. Jones has been an advocate of a payroll tax that is barred by state law and could not be applied only to those who live outside Memphis.
“To me the big question is how long will we continue to have the burden of supporting this entire region on the backs of Memphis?” he said. “That’s how I see this total discussion. … This is the economic engine, but nobody’s putting gas in the car but Memphis.”