MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Continuing their fight for benefits, the Memphis Fire Association and Memphis Police Association held a press conference Monday.
The two unions have been pushing for a half cent sales tax increase publicly since February of 2018.
“This is the best way we can come up with that spreads the burden over the largest number of people that will have the least impact on the citizens of Memphis and yet provide the biggest bang for their buck,” said Matt Cunningham with MPA.
The groups placed files with 140,000 signatures out to see, then transported them to city hall. The signatures were the result of a summer-long campaign.
The half cent sales tax would restore benefits that have been reduced in years past for firefighters and police officers in the city of Memphis. There will also be money left over for Pre-K funding and street maintenance.
The unions believe 52 million could be raised, which would be enough to restore slashed healthcare and pension benefits to their 2014 levels.
Union leaders said the city’s current benefits are sub-par and pushing police officers or firefighters with a few years experience out the door.
“Yeah they’re recruiting but when you have all the experience that’s leaving the city, that’s something the citizens don’t deserve. They deserve quality experienced police and fire personnel,” said MPA President Mike Williams.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s office released the following statement:
"The City of Memphis does not currently generate enough revenue to afford a return to a defined benefit plan for all its employees. That's why we originally had to shift our benefits to keep the City financially sound. Over the last three years, we have improved employee pay, benefits, and the promotions process for both Memphis Fire and Memphis Police hiring more than 400 officers and 300 firefighters. We have a compliment in Memphis Fire of 1,772 and we are currently at 1725. In addition, we have 103 firefighters who have left other departments from all over the country to join our department.
In August 2017, just before the first graduating class that was a product of our big recruiting push, we had 1,909 officers. Today, we have 2,017. We will reach 2,100 this year, continuing our climb toward 2,300 by end of 2020 . In addition, we have 91 PST’s. Bottom line, we have improved recruitment and retention of Memphis Fire and Memphis Police. We still have more work to do, but we definitely have momentum."
Memphis' municipal election is October 3. However, the unions want a special election.
According to the Shelby County Election Commission, it would cost a half a million dollars at the very least.
“We want the citizens to have a vote. We want to know what the citizens of Memphis think and want for their fire and police department,” said Thomas Malone with MFA.
The deciding factors on that election date depend on whether the Memphis city council quickly adopts the item as an ordinance and when the election commission completes its verification process on the signatures.