Wharton says job cuts, higher service fees could be on the way - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Wharton says job cuts, higher city service fees could be on the way

(WMC-TV) - This weekend, the City of Memphis announced more job cuts and higher costs for city services could be on the horizon.

As the property tax decline continues to take its toll on the city's coffers, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton called the prospect of more cuts an unwelcome possibility.

"It is daunting," said Wharton.

To offset a growing budget gap, the mayor and city council are scrutinizing income and expenses.  Expense reduction strategies include job cuts, city service reductions, and eliminating discretionary grants.

"We're going to be faced with some hard decisions," said Memphis City Councilman Shea Flinn.

Wharton also addressed income strategies.

"We're going to have to look at our whole fee model, what we charge and what we don't charge and ask the questions," said Wharton.

Solutions include keeping the school allowance, a cost that continues after the school merger.  Implementing an auto inspection fee and increasing charges for city services were also considered.

"In most cities, if you put a broken down refrigerator on the sidewalk, the city assesses you a fee for that," said Wharton.  "We don't."

Councilman Myron Lowery said the administration has been sending mixed money signals after the 4.6 percent pay cut juxtaposed with Christmas bonuses, the deficit, and not sending out a bill for the one-time, 18-cent tax that the council approved.

"The council needs to receive better projections from the city on our financial picture," said Lowery.  "This is a start today with a long-term strategic outlook."

The current budget gap is $17 million.  They city projects another $14 million gap in 2013.  The gap balloons to $23 million in 2014 and $25 million in 2015.

"The biggest red flag, we're not coordinating all of our planned projects with the financial reality," said Wharton.

Wharton said the budget retreat over the weekend helped bridge the communication gap.  City leaders hope to find the best solutions with minimum casualties.

Wharton's philosophy has always been that job cuts are a last resort.  Memphis city budget talks officially begin in April.

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