After two days and nearly 10 hours of debate in the chamber, the Memphis City Council passed a budget for the next fiscal year Tuesday morning.
When debate opened Tuesday morning, the budget stood at $656 million. The council added 2 percent raises for police officers and fire fighters and 1 percent raises for all other city employees. The raises added $3.1 million to the budget for a total of $656 million.
The raises were the first order of business Tuesday. They were proposed by council member Reid Hedgepeth during last week’s regular meeting. Though raises represent less than 1 percent of the overall budget, they consumed most of the debate on the entire $661 million budget.
Reid’s proposal gave raises of 2 percent to police and fire only. It was amended by a proposal from council member Edmund Ford Jr. to include a 1 percent raise to the rest of the city’s employees.
The money to pay for the raises will come from cutting some funded but unfilled positions in the Memphis Police Department.
The council approved the raises but completely circumvented the impasse process. That process, set up after labor struggles of 1978, give city employee unions a vote by three-member council committees if unions can’t get a deal worked out with the city’s mayor and administration.
Impasse committees approved several raises this year and rejected others. However, those decisions weren’t considered by the council Tuesday. On advice from the city council’s attorney Allan Wade, the group ignored the impasse decisions, allowing the budget vote to supersede them.
This drew the ire of many council members, including Harold Collins and Janis Fullilove.
“I’m not sure what we went through the impasse process when it means absolutely nothing, just to make some time during the day to say we’re doing something?” Fullilove asked. “We are making a joke of our political process. I never thought I’d say this in my life but I am so sorry to be on this council with many of you.”
Collins said the council could vote the impasse decision up or down but they should not circumvent the process.
“We are setting the wrong precedent by what we’re doing here today,” Collins said. “Hedgepeth offered what I considered a worthy alternative (to the impasse decisions). But it is not right. We have to do what the ordinance tells us and the law tells us first, then we have to proceed.”
Many proposals for raises were raised, defeated, and even turned down by labor unions in the chaotic budget season that began in April. In the end, it was the chaos that had many council members “baffled.”
“I am shocked today,” said council member Wanda Halbert. “I’m like some of you (in the audience), I’m baffled by all of this. … This budget seasons had been very different form the rest in the last seven years.”
Halbert then, called for the question, meaning she wished to stop all debate on the budget and take a final vote.
Council members Berlin Boyd, Alan Crone, Kemp Conrad, Ford, Halbert, Hedgepeth, Myron Lowery, Bill Morrison, and Jim Strickland voted for the budget.
Council members Bill Boyd, Joe Brown, Collins, and Fullilove voted against it.