Tuesday, April 25, 2017

No New Taxes in Mayor's New Budget

Posted By on Tue, Apr 25, 2017 at 4:40 PM

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s budget for the next fiscal year does not call for any new taxes, but it does call for some new fees to build infrastructure, more money to shore up the city’s pension system, and money to retain and recruit police officers here.

Strickland delivered his 2018 budget to the Memphis City Council in a short presentation Tuesday. The total general fund budget he proposed is $668.7 million, just slightly higher than the current-year budget of about $667 million.

Strickland’s capital improvement program budget (which pays for one-time, big-ticket items and are usually paid for with bonds) is $77.8 million. That is much lower than Strickland’s $85 million for the current fiscal year. Both figures are far lower than the $189 million CIP in former Mayor A C Wharton’s final budget.

The current city tax rate is $3.40 per $100 of assessed value of property. Strickland’s budget proposes keeping that figure where it is. Though, it may go down.

Here’s what Strickland’s team said about that process in a news release following his presentation:

“The office of the Shelby County Assessor of Property recently completed its every-four-years reappraisal of property values, and average values in Memphis have increased. The increase will result in a new, lower certified tax rate — which state law mandates so that higher values still produce the same amount of tax revenue for local governments.

The certified tax rate for Memphis will be determined shortly, and it will be the tax rate endorsed by Mayor Strickland.”

The budget adds new city sewer and storm water fees to “invest in our infrastructure.” The fees work out to about $5 per household, Strickland said. The improved infrastructure will help control flooding in the city, Strickland said.

Noting that public safety is the “No. 1 job of city government,” Strickland said his new budget includes pay raises for Memphis Police Department (MPD) officers, new classes to recruit police officers, and more overtime pay for officers in high-crime areas.

“Our administration inherited a police force with its lowest staffing level in about 10 years,” Strickland said.

Strickland proposal hastens the march to fully funding the pension system for city employees. The Tennessee State Comptroller put Tennessee cities on a five-year plan to fully fund their pensions a few years ago.

At the end of that five years, those cities must be funding pensions at 100 percent each year. But the comptroller allow a five-year ramp-up process to get there. Strickland plans to pay about 88 percent of the required annual contribution to the system next year, while state officials only mandate cities fund it at 83 percent at that time.

Strickland wants $18.5 million to pave more Memphis streets. He wants funds to re-open 10 library branches on Fridays. He wants to offer free spring break camps again next year and employ Memphis youths through a summer job program.

He said he also wants to continue the spirit of collaboration with the city council. That collaboration led to one of the quickest, less-contentious budget seasons in recent memory last year. He said that budget changed lives for the better.

“I know you want this positive momentum to continue,” Strickland said. “And I know you want to see other examples of things we’ve collectively turned around, too.

“So let’s work together the next few weeks to deliver a budget that will enable us to continue changing lives for the better in our city.”

Strickland’s presentation kicks off a weeks-long budget season at Memphis City Hall. City council members will now hold a series of budget hearings, in which they will learn about, discuss, and, likely, change Strickland’s original proposal.

The council will have the final word on the city’s budget. They must take a final vote on the budget by July 1.

For full details of the mayor's new budget plan, go here.

More Solar Power is Coming to the Mid-South

Posted By on Tue, Apr 25, 2017 at 2:01 PM

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is constructing a one megawatt solar facility near its Allen gas site in Memphis which is set to be completed by September of this year.

More than 3,000 solar panels will be installed over three acres of land, which will provide enough electricity to power about 120 average homes.

Combined with the five megawatts of biogas generation from the Allen gas plant, which is also under construction, the projects will produce enough renewable energy to power approximately 3,000 homes.

The $1.3 million installation will make the facility the largest TVA-owned solar project of its kind in TVA's service area.

Over the course of the next 20 years, TVA plans to invest around $8 billion in renewable energy projects, supporting the Authority's stated commitment to creating cleaner, diversified energy.

Under Proposed Law, Women Will Have to Hear Their Fetus is Unviable- Twice

Posted By on Tue, Apr 25, 2017 at 8:00 AM

  • Micaela Watts

The proposed "Tennessee Infants Protection Act" (TIPA) cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee with a 7-2 vote, and is expected to head to the Senate floor as early as next week.

If passed, the measure won't prohibit abortion before 20 weeks, but it will introduce a swath of legal entanglements for women who need an abortion after 20 weeks, and for the physicians who provide them.

Among the numerous restrictions introduced in the measure, one stands out as particularly troublesome to Francine Hunt, the executive director of Tennessee Advocates for Planned Parenthood.

If passed, women seeking an abortion after 20 weeks — whether it's because their fetus is not viable or carrying the fetus to term poses a threat to their lives — must have two physicians certify that the abortion is medically necessary under state law.

"To put this in context, for a woman who is pregnant at 20 weeks, by that point I would say most, if not all women want to carry their pregnancy to term," said Hunt.

PP's own data says that 99 percent of abortions are performed before 21 weeks.

Hunt adds, "It's usually after that point that they've gotten bad news from their doctor. They're usually in a state of grief, and they have a tough decision to make — whether that's to risk carrying the child to term, risk delivering a still born, or making the decision to terminate the pregnancy because they think it will spare their infant from a life of pain, or save the mothers."

If TIPA becomes law, expecting mothers who are faced with such a decision will have to hear that their fetus is unviable — twice, from two separate doctors who must not even be in the same practice.

"This bill doesn't really even do anything, besides create more hardships for the patient who's already at a delicate stage, and their doctor," said Hunt. "There's a cruel overtone to this bill"

Attempts to criminalize, ban, or partially ban abortions are almost a yearly feature in Tennessee's legislature, and are routinely fought by Planned Parenthood and other reproductive rights advocates. This year, the TIPA measure has actually drawn criticism from Tennessee's own attorney general, Herbert Slattery III, who called the measure "constitutionally infirm" and "suspect" in an opinion released early April.

Just last week, the state was forced to retract two abortion restrictions — one that requires physicians performing the abortions to have hospital admitting privileges, and one that requires a clinic that performs 50 or more abortions a year to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgery centers — after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down similar restrictions in Texas.

"Those restrictions were struck down because they were unconstitutional," said Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region's CEO, Ashley Coffield. "Yet, some legislators want to proceed with another unconstitutional measure."

Coffield calls TIPA, "reckless", but adds that the bill has "galvanized people across Tennessee to speak up about reproductive rights."

Saturday, April 22, 2017

State Officials Search for North Memphis Bear

Posted By on Sat, Apr 22, 2017 at 10:40 PM

In this image from 2011, Andy Tweed holds a black bear that was found and darted at Davies Plantation. - COURTESY ANDY TWEED
  • Courtesy Andy Tweed
  • In this image from 2011, Andy Tweed holds a black bear that was found and darted at Davies Plantation.

State wildlife officials made the scene of a bear sighting in North Memphis Thursday afternoon.

Andy Tweed, a Shelby County wildlife official with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, said four or five residents in the area said they saw the bear, though he hadn’t yet seen any photo or video evidence.

Tweed said he was readying to search for hard evidence of a black bear in the neighborhood, including claw marks and hair. Noting that a school was very close to the sighting location, he said he hoped to find evidence “fairly quick.”

“We do have black bears working their way through the area, usually a young male that’s been kicked out of a family group,” Tweed said. “Coming from Arkansas or East Tennessee, they do traverse the through the area quite often.”

Young, male black bears usually weigh in at around 120-130 pounds, Tweed said. Anyone who may see the bear shouldn’t provoke it by throwing rocks at it, chasing it, or cornering it, he said.

He said to leave the bear alone and that if it is here, more than likely it is looking to “get through to another area.” Witnesses should call the Memphis Police Department, he said, and 901-545-COPS.

“This is such a heavily populated area, if I do see him, I’m going to dart him, tranquilize him, and haul him off to a bear sanctuary in East Tennessee or to one of our wildlife management areas,” Tweed said.

Finally, Tweed noted that his agency gets black bear sightings around Memphis “all the time,” though they are usually from hunters or fishers.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Former MATA Chief Pleads Guilty on Prostitution Charge

Posted By on Fri, Apr 21, 2017 at 4:05 PM

  • Justin Fox Burks
  • Ron Garrison
Ron Garrison, the former CEO at Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA), pled guilty on an Alford plea Friday to charges of prostitution.

Garrison was one of 42 people charged in a three-day sting on human trafficking in Memphis in January. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) ran the sting in which those caught responded to online ads posted by undercover agents posing as prostitutes.

Garrison, 60, was placed on six months diversion for the charge, according to Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich.

That means he can have his record cleared of the prostitution offense if he avoids any new arrests and other terms of the diversion agreement.

The Alford plea is a guilty plea on the record but without making an admission of guilt.

Garrison left his post as MATA CEO immediately following his arrest.

4/20 at Overton Park, Not Very Lit

Posted By on Fri, Apr 21, 2017 at 12:30 PM

In years past, on April 20 (4/20)— dubbed "Weed Day" around the world— in Memphis Overton Park was the place to gather, roll, and light up, but this year, the only things rolling were the wheels of police cars as they circled the park.

Lee Otts, the director of Memphis' chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), was at the park, however he said he took no part in smoking the pungent plant.

Instead, he was on the Greensward with a tabletop full of voter registration forms, information on ways to contact lawmakers, and other practical steps the public can take to raise support for the drug to be legalized.

Otts was taking part in the organization's national Day of Action, a piece of the larger Take Action Campaign— a grassroots effort to raise support for marijuana reform bills carried out through social media and calls-to-action to lawmakers.

At the end of the day, Otts says the goal was to begin appealing to lawmakers by encouraging marijuana advocates to take action and do their part in working to legalize the drug.

"If you don't like something and don't do anything about it, nothing will change," Otts said.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Update: Nary a Silo Will Tarnish Famous Vista

Posted By on Thu, Apr 20, 2017 at 3:25 PM

This rendering was commissioned by Lauren Crews, owner of the Marine Hospital. Crews said he felt that the rendering provided by ACBL did not provide a complete representation of the silo's visibility. - COURTESY OF LAUREN CREWS
  • Courtesy of Lauren Crews
  • This rendering was commissioned by Lauren Crews, owner of the Marine Hospital. Crews said he felt that the rendering provided by ACBL did not provide a complete representation of the silo's visibility.

The American Commercial Barge Line company has withdrawn their application to erect two 145-foot tall storage silos on the bluff of the Mississippi River in close proximity to the National Ornamental Metal Museum and directly across from the Chickasaw Heritage Park.

The announcement was made via Facebook, on a page run by the Metal Museum that called attention to the company's plans.


Multiple residents and businesses in the French Fort area expressed concern that the construction of the silos would disrupt the view of the Mississippi from atop the ceremonial mounds that harken back to the indigenous Chickasaw nation.

The area has been documented as one of the most historic spots along the Mississippi River. Following the period of forced removal of Native Americans in the 1830's by the U.S. Government, the French Fort area was occupied by the Union Army, then a heavy influx of French and Irish immigrants at the turn of the 20th century.

In his book, Life on the Mississippi, famed author Mark Twain called the area, "the most beautiful vista on the Mississippi". The Memphis Flyer will update this story once we have confirmed Twain has stopped spinning in his grave.

Greater Memphis Chamber Aims to Grow Small Businesses

Posted By on Thu, Apr 20, 2017 at 2:02 PM

The Greater Memphis Chamber has a new goal to have a total of 600 new contracts for Minority and Women-Owned Enterprises (MWBE) and Locally Owned Small Businesses (LOSB) by the end of 2017, as announced today.

Aimed to directly address the low number of receipts MWBE businesses receive in the county, the goal is also meant to encourage local purchasing and the growth of local, small, minority and women-owned businesses.

President and CEO of Greater Memphis Chamber, Phil Trenary says that this year the growing of MWBESs and LOSBs have been a priority to the organization and because of that it is important that the success of those businesses be incorporated into the goals and objectives of the Chamber.

“The Chamber wants to ensure that it is easy and accessible for any business to succeed in Memphis," Trenary said. "It is vital to the Chamber that there be new opportunities for MWBEs and LOSBs so they have the same advantages as other businesses and this goal to grow the number of contracts will have a direct impact on their bottom line.”

This goal comes at the same time as other Chamber initiatives meant to help MWBEs and LOSBs take place, such as the Ascend Memphis Business Development Program which pairs MWBE/LOSB businesses with larger companies for a mutually beneficial partnership.

Additionally, later this year the Chamber plans to launch a web portal where businesses can find available contract opportunities and connect with MWBE and LOSB companies for those contracts.

Downtown Pocket Park to Open

Posted By on Thu, Apr 20, 2017 at 1:59 PM

Madison Avenue Park, a new "pocket" park in the heart of downtown is here and will open to the public tomorrow, April 21 with 12 hours of continuous free festivities.

From 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., rain or shine, the park will be a celebration space featuring film screenings, live music, food trucks, theatrical performances, and a ribbon cutting ceremony at 4:00 p.m.

Though tucked in an alley, the 7,500 square foot multileveled park is modernized with green space, performance areas, and an art gallery. 

The park, located where an abandoned Burger King once stood, is on the corner of Madison Avenue and Maggie H. Isabel Street next to the First Tennessee Bank Tower and local pub Brass Door.

Partial owner of Brass Door, Scott Crosby, along with partners purchased the land in 2013 and recruited the PARC Foundation and Davies Toews Architecture to co-design the space.


Temporary Main Street Tenants Named

Posted By on Thu, Apr 20, 2017 at 12:09 PM

Sixteen vendors that will occupy two spaces at 7 and 9 N. Main Street as a part of the Open on Main initiative, have been named and will be open for business beginning May 1.

The vendors, who will sell everything from local art to designer chocolate to refurbished furniture, include:

    7 N. Main 9 N. Main
May   Jupe 901 Shop
June   Jupe + Somi Decor Randomly Refurbished
July   Stockroom Vintage L.R. Clothier
August   Style by L. Thomas Signet / Sew Much Love
September   Quark Theater J.Lykey's Boutique & M.S. Shoetique
October   Tako’s Treasures Dorothy Art
November   Bozwell + Lilly Phillip Ashley Chocolates

The Downtown Memphis Commission's (DMC) latest activation initiative will allow the tenants to set up shop rent-free.  

DMC says the goals of the initiative are to bring more people traffic to Main Street as well as encourage permanent occupation of the two spaces on Main Street and others similar to them.

“Adding vibrancy to Main Street is an ongoing strategic goal,” Terence Patterson, President and CEO of DMC said. “For the Open on Main initiative, we selected tenants based on ability to create diverse, active and engaging spaces.”

More than 80 local entrepreneurs applied to utilize the two spaces, according to the DMC. As a result, the commission is currently looking for more available spots on Main Street for future pop-up shops.

The New New Plan for Memphis International Airport

Posted By on Thu, Apr 20, 2017 at 10:09 AM

  • Memphis and Shelby County Airport Authority
  • An improved B concourse.

Officials unveiled a $214 million, four-year plan to modernize Memphis International Airport Thursday morning, an update to an original $114 million plan introduced in 2014.

The new plan carries most of the hallmarks of the original plan, including consolidating most passenger operations to the B concourse, raising its ceilings, bringing in more natural light, and more. However, the new plan also includes related projects like building a new jet bridge and electrical upgrades on the A and C concourses for more airline operations.

“This is a lengthy, complex process, and it’s crucial that we do it right in order to deliver the best possible airport experience for Memphis travelers,” said Pace Cooper, chairman of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority board of commissioners. “We’ve made progress thus far, and more significant changes are on the horizon. These changes are all part of a project that will result in a modern, convenient, state-of-the-art airport for our passengers, airlines, concessionaires and other partners.”
  • Memphis and Shelby County Airport Authority

No local tax dollars will be used for the project, airport officials said, noting that the Airport Authority receives no local tax revenue. The Airport Authority will take on debt (by issuing bonds) to fund most of the project. Federal and state grants will also help fund the project. Other funds will come from regular fees paid by airlines and other airport tenants.

The original plan called for renovating and adding on to the B concourse. The new plan expands on that idea calling for the concourse to be completely redesigned, rebuilt, and expanded with additional passenger amenities. B concourse will be closed during this construction phase. Airlines and other tenants will be moved to the A and C concourses during that time.

The original plan called for the complete removal of the south ends of the A and C concourses. The south end of A was removed in 2015. The south end of C remains and will remain until construction on the B concourse is complete.

Officials said construction will begin in early 2018. Delta Airlines and Allegiant will begin to move out of B concourse later this year. The new concourse will open in early 2021 and consolidation will be complete and the south end of the C concourse will be demolished later that year.

  • Memphis and Shelby County Airport Authority
Here is what you can expect in the updated B concourse:

• Higher ceilings
• Increased natural light
• Wider corridors and larger gate areas
• Additional seating
• Additional moving walkways
• Additional amenities such as additional charging stations in gate areas
• Children’s play area
• Designed to modern seismic standards
• Stage for live music in the Rotunda area
• Additional lounge areas

Here’s what will happen after B concourse is open:

• Airlines will relocate to the B concourse. Commuter airlines will operate from a new ground boarding area on the A concourse.
• Concessions in the A and C concourses will be moved to B, giving them greater exposure to concentrated numbers of passengers.
• The new B concourse will feature new and enhanced retail and food options.
• Ticketing/check-in will continue in the A, B and C terminals.
• Baggage claim for all airlines will be consolidated into the B baggage claim area, though the A and C baggage claim areas will remain open for passenger entrance and exit.
• Security screening is not anticipated to change and will primarily be consolidated to B, although a second security checkpoint at C will also be available for periods of heavy traffic.

Here’s what has happened at the airport since the original modernization plan was announced in 2014:

• Continued work between Airport Authority, design team and airline partners to refine design plans
• Southwest and American ticketing counters were moved to the B terminal
• New outbound baggage belt system installed in west half of the B ticketing lobby
• The south end of the A concourse was removed
• Neely’s Interstate BBQ moved to the C concourse
• TSA operations and office areas relocated from A concourse to B concourse
• The airport has applied for and received National Environmental Protection Act approval from the Federal Aviation Administration on this project
• Added airport-wide consolidated flight information systems and digital displays

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Historic William C. Ellis & Sons Building in Demolition Crosshairs

Posted By on Wed, Apr 19, 2017 at 2:56 PM

  • Courtesy of the Save the William C. Ellis & Sons Ironworks and Machine Shop Facebook page.

As part of a $3.5 million property purchase, 275 S. Front was the first parcel to be demolished by the Carlile Corp. Now, a group of citizens with preservation concerns are rallying to save the 19th century William C. Ellis & Sons Iron Works Inc building, the next parcel slated for demolition to make way for One Beale high rise.

During a public meeting with officials from the historic preservationist group Memphis Heritage, a central theme emerged. According to Memphis Heritage, Carlile has no submitted formal redevelopment plans to the city of Memphis. The absence of such plans has produced multiple question from skeptical Memphians and history buffs

"I find it hard to believe that you are going to pay $3.5 million for a building you have no plans for," said June West, executive director of Memphis Heritage, who added that she's surprised the city would issue demolition permits without a full understanding of what would go up in place of the demolished property.

Though Carlile was invited to attend the public meeting, they declined to do so. In their absence, various ideas were tossed around the crowd of thirty gathered.

Could the city council be lobbied to pass a resolution that bans demolition of buildings in historic districts within 12 months of a redevelopment plan being presented?

Would South Front have to be widened for traffic flow? If so, can those permits be issued without redevelopment details?

For now, demolition is still scheduled through Biggs General Contracting Co., but those in favor of preserving at least some of the building, if not all, will be moving to investigate every possible angle in hopes of temporarily halting the demolition.

"I find it hard to believe that you're going to pay $3.5 million dollars for a building that you have no plan for," said West, who added, "I'm not saying that every building needs to be saved, but good planning is good planning."

This story will be updated with additional details.

Memphis Pets of the Week (April 20-26)

Posted By on Wed, Apr 19, 2017 at 11:27 AM

Each week, the Flyer will feature adoptable dogs and cats from Memphis Animal Services. All photos are credited to Memphis Pets Alive. More pictures can be found on the Memphis Pets Alive Facebook page.

Tags: , , , ,

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Murder Rates Are Still Down, Property Crime Rates Are Still Up in Memphis

Posted By on Tue, Apr 18, 2017 at 3:22 PM

The latest figures released by the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission show the murder rate in Memphis is down by 26 percent from this time last year, from 7.6 per 100,000 persons this time last year to 5.6  as of March 31.

Contrariwise, property crimes for the city have jumped by 14.6 percent from this time last year. The bulk of this increase is due to motor vehicle thefts; 52.3 motor vehicle thefts per 100,000 persons living in Memphis. This time last year, the number was 43.8 thefts per 100,000.

Major violent crimes as a total category include murder, rape, aggravated assault, and robbery. Despite the decrease in murders, the total rate is stagnate for now compared to last year — only a .2 percent increase.

President of the crime commission, Bill Gibbons, says he is concerned about the continued rise of motor vehicle thefts but adds that he encouraged by the increase of arrests for motor vehicle thefts, up 68 percent from this time last year.

"Hopefully, this will send a clear message to perpetrators and serve as a deterrent going forward," said Gibbons.

The crime commission began tracking major offenses in 2006, a notably high-crime year for Memphis, using preliminary data gathered from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Though the last 11 years contain plenty of nuances and fluctuations in multiple crime categories, the overall number of "Group A crimes" — 54 categories including both violent and property offenses — has decreased by 17.2 percent in Memphis.

All stats reported above reflect data specific to the City of Memphis. The updated crime states from January 1 - March 31, 2016, compared to January 1 - March 31, 2017, for the whole of Shelby County are as follows:

Overall Crime Rate/ Group A Offenses — 4.9 percent increase
Major Violent Crimes — 0.3 percent increase
Major Property Crime — 12.9 percent increase
Murder — 26 percent decrease 

State Investigation Finds Shifty Business in Oakland

Posted By on Tue, Apr 18, 2017 at 1:40 PM

  • Town of Oakland
  • Goodman
The city business of Oakland, Tenn. has been in the crosshairs of investigators with the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office and their findings go all the way up to the mayor’s office.

Comptroller Justin P. Wilson issued the findings Tuesday and said he has reviewed them with Mike Dunavant, the District Attorney General for the 25th District, which includes Fayette County.

The investigation found that Chris Goodman, the mayor of Oakland, used city property and his city hall office for his private-sector job. Goodman was also “frequently out of town and unavailable to town employees during the day,” according to investigators.

Investigators also found that government officials there gave a contract to upgrade the city’s information system to a company without a competitive bid. Oakland city policies require any purchase over $10,000 go through a bidding process. The computer system upgrade cost $52,172.29, according to the comptroller’s office.

Also, the former town recorder got a check for compensatory time at the end of her employment with the town that totaled $45,006.01. The payment was against city law and investigators could not prove the validity of the 1,532.01 hours she had allegedly accrued.

“In addition to the issues noted above, our investigators also found numerous accounting and administrative problems within the town’s operations,” Wilson said in a statement. “I encourage the board of mayor and aldermen to address each of these issues to improve accountability.”

Here is the Comptroller's full report:


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