Memphis Mayor A C Wharton makes his way through the crowd at Memphis City Hall after he delivered his budget Tuesday.
Pensions, paving, public safety, fighting blight, and holding the current tax rate are the priorities of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton’s $656 million budget he delivered to the Memphis City Council Tuesday.
“I am pleased to report that the city of Memphis successfully emerged, bruised but not broken, from a perfect financial storm brought on by the recession, unfunded liabilities (in the pension and retiree health care funds) and high unemployment,” Wharton said Tuesday. “My proposed (fiscal year) 2016 budget should be viewed in this context.
“We had a financial crisis on our hands. We needed to act, and we did. While we still have financial challenges, we are now in a position to begin increasing investments in our city and our people, which is what our (fiscal year) 2016 budget is all about.”
As an example, Wharton pointed to new investments in police and fire recruiting classes.
“Although crime has been down over the past few years, and down 6 percent so far this year, we remain vigilant in our commitment to public safety,” Wharton said. “The tragic deaths of two of our precious children hammers home that all is not good, and that we cannot rest.”
For the blight fight, the budget calls for $3 million for the demolition of buildings “that are both eye sores and havens for crime.”
The city paving program will get a bump this year, getting $15 million in Wharton’s budget this year compared to $9 million last year. The city has also won $18 million in paving grants from various sources. All told, the city will have $33 million to pave nearly 100 miles of Memphis roads this year. It is “the most money we have spent on our roads in decades,” Wharton said.
Wharton’s budget proposes a $48 million payment to the employee pension fund in the next fiscal year, double the amount paid in 2014. The payment comes from savings garnered from reforms to the city’s pension and retiree health care systems.
Still, the budget has a $13 million hole. Projected revenues are only $643 million, not the total $656 million proposed in the mayor’s budget. Wharton said the shortfall is a result of keeping pre-65 retirees on the old retiree health care system until January 2016. The gap will be filled with reserve funding.
Wharton budget got started through the city council's three-vote approval process Tuesday. With that, the final vote on the budget could be taken as early as Tuesday, May 19.