Wednesday, June 7, 2017

New Budget Lowers Taxes, Hires Cops, & More

Posted By on Wed, Jun 7, 2017 at 7:11 AM

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Next year’s city budget lowers taxes, gives raises to all city employees, hires more cops, paves more streets, strips funds from the Urban Arts Commission, and more; it was also passed at a break-neck speed (as far as budgets go).

The Memphis City Council passed its lightly amended version of Mayor Jim Strickland’s 2017-2018 budget for the city Tuesday, the very first night it could do so. City budgets are due on July 1 and past councils have pushed final votes close to that date in hours-long sessions at Memphis City Hall.

The current council passed its first budget last year in (maybe a record) seven minutes. This year, that same council passed the budget in 28 minutes, according to council chairman Berlin Boyd (or 46 minutes by Strickland’s watch).

“This year’s budget process was another example of this council’s hard work and professional cooperation in good faith between us and the administration,” Boyd said. “And to be clear, even though today's budget passed in 28 minutes downstairs, today was the culmination of five weeks of hard work with additional all-day hearings and countless hours of meetings, research, and discussion on top of that to see this budget through.”

Strickland said the quick passage is a result of the cooperation between the council and the mayor’s office.

“To me, this is a testament that when we work together and are open to compromise, we can move Memphis forward in a way that fosters faith in government — as opposed to the fierce battles of years past that only serve to drive wedges between us,” Strickland said. “This is the government you deserve.”

The council’s version of the operating budget, which is used for day-to-day operations of the city, was about $668 million. The capital budget, used to buy large, one-time items, was about $81 million. Both figures were higher than Strickland’s original proposal.

Thanks to the recent re-appraisal of properties, council members were able to lower the city tax rate from $3.40 per $100 of assessed value to $3.27. The lower tax rate yields the same revenue for the city as the $3.40 rate.

Strickland lauded the budget, calling it “responsive to the taxpayer,” as it will eventually put more cops on the street, allow for more streets to be paved, keep libraries open for longer hours, and more.

But not everyone was a winner in this year’s budget debate. The Downtown Memphis Commission’s budget was held as some council members plan to further investigate the agency’s finances, especially its salaries. The Urban Arts Commission’s budget was stripped altogether “due to concerns about local and minority spending percentages,” Boyd said.

Look for a follow-up story later that will go more in-depth on the council’s budget.

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