Mayor challenges council to act against crime

Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton made his pitch Tuesday for funding the war on crime to the Memphis City Council.

"There's a war out there," Herenton said. "We have Iraq in our neighborhoods, and it doesn't lend itself to people deliberating about taxes."

To fight the war on crime, Herenton wants to put 500 new officers on the streets of Memphis over the next two years, raising property taxes by 50 cents to fund the additions.

The mayor told a city council budget committee the city's fiscal health is improving, and he's expecting a $30 million budget surplus. Some city council members said some of that surplus should be used to fight crime, instead of increasing taxes.

"I'm going to push to come up with ways and means to do this with out a property tax increase," said council member Rickey Peete. "I feel very strongly we can."

Herenton said if others could come up with better funding ideas, he would be happy to consider them.  One suggestion was a payroll tax, and some council member thought that might work.

Herenton admitted it may be unrealistic to think 500 police officers could be hired over the next two years, saying it is too hard to find that many people who can qualify for the job. He said he set his goals high, and he hopes the city council will work with him to reach a consensus on what to do.

"Those individuals on the city council, they were elected to get a job done," Herenton said. "I challenge them to do what this mayor has done: put the interests of the public before their political aspirations."

Herenton said he knows it is politically unpopular to raise taxes, but he is willing to push and the council should be ready to work with him.