MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Memphis police and fire fighters associations kicked off their campaign in support of a public safety referendum to restore their benefits, which they say will help make the city safer.
Members from both associations gathered at the referendum's campaign headquarters on Poplar for the official launch on Saturday.
This fall, Memphis voters will be asked whether to increase city sales tax by a half-cent to restore retirement benefits that police and fire fighters lost in 2014.
"When these cuts were made, we lost 500 officers," said John Covington with the Memphis Police Association. "We put a lot of money into recruiting but we're still hundreds of officers and firefighters short of where we need to be and when we had fully manned departments, (we had) some of the lowest crime we'd ever seen."
The Memphis Police Association and Memphis Fire Fighters Association collected more than 140,000 signatures to put the question on the ballot.
"Every one of you who works for the Memphis fire or police department risks your life everyday. I think that is reason enough to have what you were promised when you were hired on," said Thomas Malone, president of the Memphis Fire Fighters Association.
The groups say it would take $34 million to restore the benefits, but the sales tax would bring in $52 million.
The extra money would go to fixing Memphis streets and pre-K.
Over the next several weeks, the associations say they'll be knocking on doors and running ads similar to a mayoral campaign.
"We want to do a full professional campaign to get the facts in front of the people, because we feel like if we get the facts in front of the people, they will be with us as we build a safer city together," said Covington.
It's unclear if anyone will run a similar campaign opposing the referendum, but time is running out.
The election will be held Oct. 3rd.