Memphis firefighters fight city council for sales tax to add benefits

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - The Memphis Firefighter Association is taking aim at Memphis City Council members. They're angry the council won't propose a sales tax increase to fund the restoration of police and fire benefits.

The police and fire unions are gathering signatures to get the sales tax hike on the November ballot, but if the council signed off on the effort, they wouldn't have to get the signatures.

"It's not that we're asking them to endorse it, to embrace it, to even work for it, they can work against it," Thomas Malone, president of the Memphis Fire Association, said.

The group posted a tweet Friday morning saying that they had been working with an unnamed council member to bring up their sales tax increase, but the effort died amid a lack of support from other council members.

"They called us last night and said they were told by their colleagues it'd never see the light of day; it wouldn't get out of committee," Malone said.

The fire and police unions are in the middle of a signature-gathering campaign with a goal of more than 40,000 signatures by mid-June to get the half-cent sales tax hike on the November ballot for voters to choose.

They want the money to cover police and fire benefits the city cut in 2014.

Malone says the initiative could raise as much as $52 million annually with roughly $37 million needed to restore benefits. The excess money could go to pre-K and road paving.

"It's not the end of the world for us. We are still getting the signatures; we are still working," Malone said.

The frustration comes on Malone's part because Memphis City Council members are allowing voters to decide this fall whether to alter a term limit measure the voters passed in 2008 that could extend terms for council members.

"It looks like to us if they like an issue, they'll put it on the ballot. If they don't like an issue, then they'll stonewall it and won't put it on the ballot," Malone said.

Kendall Downing reached out to City Council Chairman Berlin Boyd since he was mentioned in the firefighter association tweet. He has not heard back.

Another council member, who didn't want their name used, said there are doubts as to whether the unions will be able to get the required number of signatures to get the issue on the ballot.

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