New concerns arise after city budget hearings

(WMC-TV) - The City of Memphis kicked off the 2013 budget hearings this weekend, and new information that came out of the hearings has Memphis Police and Fire unions voicing new concerns.

Memphis Fire Association President Larry Anthony says the number of proposed fire company closures is rising as budget season swings into full steam.

"Detrimental to the citizens of Memphis along with the fire fighters themselves.  Their safety is going to be compromised.  We're quite uneasy this time again," said Anthony.

Anthony says the city originally anticipated the closure of three fire companies.  Now, it's up to six.  He also says the city is proposing that the six companies to the left be relocated to the six companies on the right.

"We're going to try to work with the council and try to work with the director to try to get these numbers down to zero and keep the service like it is," Anthony stated.

Police Association President Michael Williams says he got a letter from the city that the city's proposing cuts to benefits, from sick leave to vacation.

"It was wages one time, layoffs another and now they're talking about the benefits.  So we're not feeling too good about that," said Williams.  He also said officers need to keep the current time off to cope with stress.

"That's what makes the city attractive when you talk about drawing police officers to this city," said Williams.

The city says the $31 million shortfall came after the council passed school tax cuts over the last two years.  But a judge ruled the city must still pay for schools through 2013.  So the answer is budget cuts or a 47 cent tax increase.

City Council members like Joe Brown and Jim Strickland are split.

"We are very short on providing the personnel that we need to provide.  So no, I am not in favor of any reductions in public safety," said Brown.

"There's no doubt.  That should be the last thing cut.  But I think everything should be on the table to avoid a huge property tax increase," Strickland stated.

Police and fire unions hold budget presentations the first week of May.  June 30th is the deadline to balance the budget.

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