Mayor Wharton to take bonus proposal to city council

(WMC-TV) - Tuesday, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton will ask the city council to grant a one-time, 1.5 percent bonus to city employees hired no later than July 2010.

"I think it's a balanced package and the right thing to do," said Wharton.

At the same time, he will ask for pension reforms, including a set retirement age and a reduction in the rate city pensions accrue interest.

"The greater we reduce our long term indebtedness, obligations to the pension fund, that frees up money," said Wharton.

A $4.5 million surplus would come out of the pension reforms and budget cuts that range from delayed automobile purchases to no raises.

"And the worst, of course, the 4.6 percent pay cut," said Wharton.

Wharton and his administrators are included in the pay cut, which he said is less than other cities.

"When you look at Detroit where city employees are getting hit with 10 percent," he said.

The mayor said the cuts will chip away at the $1.2 billion debt and restore reserves.

Reserves are rebounding after they dipped from $98 million in 2009 to $76.3 million after the city paid for schools in 2010.  Reserves are now up to $80.5 million in 2011.

Wharton said he always promised any surplus would go back to the employees before the debt service.

"The employees did not generate that gap, and it would be improper for me to even expect or suggest that we try to pay off this billion dollar debt out of the hides of the employees," said Wharton.

The mayor pointed out what his proposal spares.

"We have not cut the handsome health insurance package we have," said Wharton.  "They still have the full benefits."

Wharton is now reviewing the labor unions' counter-offer, which arrived on his desk Friday night.

"We're still talking," he said.  "There's less name calling.  Certainly the employees have not forgotten.  I'm sure the chambers will be packed on Tuesday."

Meanwhile, Wharton is walking a tight rope as he juggles the economic downturn.

"This is rough right now, but in the end, it's going to be good for our city," he said.

Contingent on council approval, the bonus payments would be on the December 22 paychecks.

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