Monday, October 23, 2006

Herenton Calls for Payroll Tax or Alternatives

Posted By on Mon, Oct 23, 2006 at 4:00 AM

Mayor Willie Herenton challenged Memphis business leaders Monday to either support a payroll tax or come up with some other way to raise money for more police officers.

Meeting with reporters for the second time in two weeks, Herenton and Police Director Larry Godwin repeated that Memphis needs more cops to deal with a rising violent crime rate and community concern about it.

But this time Herenton admitted that he, like most members of the Memphis City Council, is “weary” of property tax increases. He said his recent proposal to increase them by 50 cents over the next two years was only to illustrate how expensive it will be to add hundreds more officers. No council member rallied around that plan.

Herenton praised one of his former mayoral opponents, John Willingham, for proposing a county-wide privilege tax or payroll tax on people who live outside of Shelby County but work in Memphis or suburban Shelby County. Herenton easily defeated Willingham, a former member of the Shelby County Commission, in the 2003 mayoral election.

The mayor’s comments were aimed at the Memphis Regional Chamber of Commerce and Memphis Tomorrow, an elite group of business leaders that has urged him to take ownership of the crime issue.

“We need to change fundamentally how we support government,” Herenton said.

He said it is “ridiculous” to say Memphis government has an expense problem that can be solved by being more efficient.

“We have a revenue problem,” he said.

Herenton said he is not necessarily giving up on the property tax increase but would prefer to see council members and business leaders “jump on a solution bandwagon” and get behind an alternative.

Meanwhile, Godwin said the police department will expand its “Blue Crush” program to all precincts and step up its use of reserve officers to perform perfunctory tasks. Applications are being accepted for 50 police reserve officers and 25 traffic aide positions.

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