Is Memphis like bankrupt Detroit? Depends on who you ask


(WMC-TV) - Bankruptcy in Detroit has many Memphians wondering if it could happen here. Mayor A C Wharton is addressing those concerns.

"We are a city that's dealing finishing up a plan to deal with its debt," he said.

Mayor Wharton told reporters Friday afternoon that it is not fair to compare Memphis to Detroit.

"Detroit was basically a one industry town, when the auto industry went down, the city went," he explained. "Fortunately we have a diverse economy which is becoming more diverse everyday."

But not everyone agrees with the mayor.

School Board Member Kenneth Whalum says the similarities between the two cities are obvious.

"And if we don't do something soon we're going to end up in the same place," said Whalum.

Whalum says three letters from the comptroller, combined with a decline in population, aggressive tax breaks, and crime are right in line with Detroit.

"Those are similarities that are eerie and anybody who denies that is just in denial," he argued.

So is the comparison between Detroit and Memphis a perception? Or a reality? It depends on who you ask.

"If it's not the same thing as Detroit, what is it?" said Whalum.

"I think the key difference though is that everybody in this town has recognized fully that all cities have to change," said Wharton.

Speaking of changes, Mayor A C Wharton says he met with the comptroller earlier this week and heard that Memphis is not yet out of the woods, though he says the city is headed in the right direction.

Additional points from the Mayor's remarks Friday:

  • Although slightly below the national average (30.9 percent), [Memphis] has twice the percentage of citizens with Bachelor's degrees in Memphis (Memphis -26 percent versus Detroit's 12.2 percent).
  • Detroit currently has only about 50,000 more citizens than we do in Memphis, but their budget for city government is about 5 times the size of Memphis' budget. For instance, they have over 13,000 city employees compared to our 7,000 or so employees.
  • The city's pension plan is 74.4 percent funded as of our latest actuarial valuation date.
  • As of the end of FY2012, Detroit's rainy day fund balance was -12.9 percent of its budget compared to 12.6 percent for the City of Memphis.

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