Memphis City Council approves mayor's 2019 budget

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland's $685 million budget was approved by City Council on Tuesday evening.

The approval of the city's budget means starting July 1, all full-time city employees will now earn at least $15.50 an hour. Strickland said those employees were working full time but making less than $42,000 a year and being paid at least 5 percent under market value.

With those pay raises confirmed, city leaders are turning their attention to the 850 part-time employees who still make less than $15 an hour.

They work in our libraries, they maintain city grounds, and they keep neighborhoods across our city up to code. They are the city's part-time employees, and their work is vital to City of Memphis.

"When you look at what each one of those individuals does in the city, we need to make sure that some of those needs are met whether it's in a seasonal, full-time or part-time compactly," said District 6 City Councilman Edmund Ford Jr.

Now, an exploratory committee will determine if the city is able to increase the hourly minimum wage of all 850 part-time city employees to $15 an hour.

Ford estimates the cost of the salary boost to be roughly $3.6 million.

"Every dollar for them is another $1,000 in their pocket to feed their family, put clothes on their children's backs, or just to make sure that roof is on top of their heads," Ford said.

Currently, part-time employees make between $12-$14 an hour and work about 28 hours a week.

Ford said through this year-long discussion of poverty, it's not enough to just discuss the creation of more jobs.

"We also have to look at what's a real livable wage in the city of Memphis," Ford said.

If the committee finds that the city can afford the wage hike, It could be a year before it goes into effect.

Public safety was another large focus of Mayor Strickland's budget for 2019. Strickland asked for and received more money to hire additional officers.

With a $10.1 million revenue increase from last year, Strickland wanted to increase parks and library programming, spend $2.4 million for pension, and another $1.5 million for additional MPD and MFD manpower.

"We have money in the bank," said Council Chairman Berlin Boyd, "and our reserves our untouched.  We're making sure the city stays sound and healthy."

It was important to Mayor Strickland that taxes not go up.  He calls this year's budget "austere."

"When you compare Memphis property taxes to Fayette County or Germantown or Collierville, our property tax is just so much higher," Mayor Strickland said. "We need to hold the line.  We need to not raise taxes and we need to live within our means."

His budget includes $1.5 million more for public safety, to pay for at least two more MPD recruit classes, more P.S.T.'s (Police Service Technicians) and more SkyCops around the city.

There's also an additional $1.3 million to make improvements to parks and $500,000 for the city's libraries.

The council found $2.4 million to make sure all full-time employees make at least $15.50 an hour.

"There is a lady who's been working in the library since 1972," Ford said, who also sponsored the cost of living raises, "She's been there for 46 years and she's not even making $15 an hour.  Well, that changes July 1."

The city's new budget does not include pay raises for Memphis police and firefighters.

"The budget does nothing for firefighters," said Thomas Malone, president of the Memphis Firefighters Association. "Why aren't you giving people who risk their lives a raise?"

Mayor Strickland acknowledges he and the city council had to make some difficult decisions about this budget.

"Our pension still is not fully funded," Mayor Strickland said, "and our firefighters and police officers were not able to get a pay increase this year.  We need to make that a priority next year. It's hard to do everything you want to do."

Councilman Kemp Conrad applauded his colleagues for working with Mayor Strickland's administration, making compromises and avoiding contentious, heated debates like in years past.

"When it comes to a $700 million budget," Conrad said, "you can't let perfect get in the way of good.  And there's a lot of good in this budget."

Some of that "good" refers to $19 million for street paving, the most any administration in the last decade has earmarked for improving roads in the Bluff City.

There's more money for street bumps, as an increasing number of neighborhoods request them to combat speeders.

Another $300,000 will be used to make 250 more youth summer jobs available, bringing the total to 1,500.

The bottom line, Boyd said, Memphis taxpayers should be pleased with this budget.

"The city is leading by example," Boyd said. "We see the growth in our city. We see movement. We see new projects. We've added additional revenue to services that constituents should notice, too."

The council lowered the city's property tax rate by 8 cents, from $3.27 down to $3.19.  The owner of a $100,000 home will save $20 a year on their property tax bill.  The owner of a $200,000 house will save about $40. The owner of a $300,000 will pay $60 less a year in Memphis property taxes.

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