In a move that showed the mayor isn't the only authority on city services, the City Council voted to de-fund the Memphis Sexual Assault Resource Center last night at its ongoing budget hearings.
The proposal, which has to be voted on by the full council as part of the overall operating budget, would be contingent on MSARC being taken over by the county or another organization. It could also be vetoed by the mayor.
Instead of focusing on the problems that have surfaced at the center in recent months, council members in favor of the move said that it was a way to put regional services on the regional tax base. Many compared it to the Health Department, which, after years as a joint city/county agency, is now administered solely by the county.
"The health department and MSARC both serve people who live outside the city. That's a fact," said council member Jim Strickland, the maker of the motion.
But Councilwoman Barbara Swearengen Ware called the move "premature" and said it would leave MSARC vulnerable.
"I just don't think it's in the best interest of the people that use this service," she said. "There are too many ifs, too many questions marks."
A proposal to shift MSARC from the city to the county has already passed in a County Commission committee, but has not been approved by the full County Commission. Council members in favor of the move said the city would have plenty of time to bring MSARC back in house if the county decided not to take it over.
MSARC was the only entity under the Public Services division that the administration did not propose any budget cuts for.
Because it shifted minor forensic exams to a Le Bonheur clinic earlier this week, the city expects to receive less funding and reimbursements from the state in the coming year. However, since MSARC still has to be staffed around the clock, the cost to run MSARC will remain the same.
"I want action," said council chair Myron Lowery. "I wanted answers that I didn't get yesterday."