Wharton, city council spar over budget

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton offered a solution to the cities' budget squeeze, but his proposal to increase the property tax by 47 cents isn't being received well increase might not go over well with tax payers.
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton offered a solution to the cities' budget squeeze, but his proposal to increase the property tax by 47 cents isn't being received well increase might not go over well with tax payers.

(WMC-TV) – Memphis Mayor A C Wharton offered a solution to the cities' budget squeeze, but his proposal to increase the property tax by 47 cents isn't being received well increase might not go over well with tax payers.

Wharton pitched his idea to a standing room only audience and silent demonstrators during Tuesday's city council meeting.

However, council members say a 47 cent tax hike is out of the question, even if it is just a onetime tax increase.

But without a tax hike, the mayor said the police and fire departments won't be immune to cuts from his proposed $628 million budget.

"There is no such thing as a good tax increase, even for the lofty purpose of funding schools," Wharton said.

But moments after Wharton proposed the tax increase to the city council, he announced an alternative. He proposed using money from the recent sale of the Defense Depot to fill gaps in the budget.

Meanwhile, silent labor protests played out around the room.

Behind Councilwoman Janis Fullilove hung a replica of the sign carried by sanitation workers during their 1968 protests. The famous sign reads "I Am a Man."

"Property taxes are high already," she said. "Talking about cutting fire and police is absolutely egregious, reprehensible, ludicrous."

Wharton said he has already reduced the cost of government by more than six percent, but that's not enough for some council members.

"I think we need to do a reset," said Council member Kemp Conrad. "There's an old saying, 'Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.'"

Conrad said a personnel overhaul is the only way to keep the city solvent.

"We need to make it more like the private sector, but police and fire need something different," he said. "If we did that, we'd have people working longer. We simply would not need as many city employees."

He wants to cut city workers' average 55 days of paid time off and that sanitation workers should have an incentive that the more they pick up, the more they're paid.

Fullilove said the burden needs to be taken off the backs of taxpayers. She said businesses which pay no property taxes should take more responsibility.

"We give away the bank when it comes to these businesses and corporations when we're trying to attract them in here," said Fullilove. "We'll give them the store. Well okay, we give you the store, you give us something back."

The council and mayor begin budget hearings Saturday.

Copyright 2012 WMC-TV. All rights reserved.