Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland presented his “not flashy” budget for 2017 that focuses on public safety, pensions, paving, and no new taxes, all of which Strickland said defines his oft-stated pledge to be “brilliant on the basics.”
Strickland’s operating budget, which pays for day-to-day items like salaries, office supplies, and more, is $667 million, $9 million more than last year’s budget. Strickland said the increase was thanks to “modestly higher” projected revenues.
As for public safety, he said it is “the most important job of local government." His operating budget includes $3.8 million for raises for Memphis Police Department officers, two police academy classes, and the hiring of 30, part-time 911 dispatchers. It also calls for a $1.9 million in raises for Memphis Fire Services firefighters.
Both raises were negotiated before the official beginning of budget season between the mayor and the public safety unions, the Memphis Police Association and the Memphis fire Fighters Association.
The raises will help recruit and retain police officers and fire fighters in Memphis, Strickland said.
“There’s no question that our brave men and women in blue need better pay and a better promotion structure,” he said.
On pensions, Strickland wants to up the annual payment by $4 million next year up to $54 million the city would pay for its pension obligations over 12 months. When Strickland sat on the council in 2014, the city was paying only $14 million into this fund, which provides for retirement benefits for all city employees.
Paving was a focus for council member Strickland and it seems to remain a priority for mayor Strickand as his budget proposes spending $16.5 million on paving city street next year. The figure is a 10 percent increase over last year.
The Capital Improvements Program (CIP) portion of the budget pays for one-time, big-ticket items, which are usually paid for with bonds. Strickland’s budget is $85 million, much lower than last year’s CIP budget of $189 million.
Still, Strickland said he wasn’t “thrilled” with the high cost of his CIP program. Typically, cities keep these budgets within 10 percent of their total operating budgets, which would put Memphis’ fund at around $65 million.
However, Strickland said he found out about some city obligations “a few months ago” and that he’s committed to fulfilling those pledges. One of those is buying $85 million worth of new radios over the next three years for the police and fire departments. Also, Strickland’s budget includes $6 million to be paid as the city’s matching portion of the new South City development to replace Foote Homes.
With all of this, Strickland said he would not raise the city tax rate, which is $3.40 per $100 of assessed value. He said city and county taxes combined make for the highest rate in the state “by far.”
He said, as he did when he was a council member and when he was on the mayoral campaign trail, that the tax rate here is a major driver pushing people to leave Memphis.
Strickland’s budget also includes some smaller, yet interesting items:
• $2.5 million more to the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) operating budget than last year.
• $5 million more to MATA’s CIP budget.
• $2 million to Mason Village, a new development near Mason Temple.
• $407,000 for new SkyCop cameras.
• $200,000 extending wireless internet to all of the city’s community centers.
• Moving Memphis Animal Services from the parks division to the executive division, thereby making MAS leaders accountable directly to the mayor.
In closing, Strickland pointed to some hopeful news from Moody’s, the credit rating agency, which last week affirmed the city’s bond rating. But the agency also revised the city’s future financial outlook from negative to safe, he said.
“[The budget] is the most important work we’ll do all year,” Strickland said. “This is why I campaigned for mayor and why Memphians sent us here to City Hall, to do this hard work.”
If you missed the presentation, check our Facebook Live video here
If you want to get all of the budget details for yourself, check out the mayor's "Budget Central" webpage here