A long-awaited rights-of-way ordinance that gives the Memphis City Council a final say on future underground infrastructure projects was approved during the Nov. 16 meeting.

by James Coleman —

After weeks of haggling, Memphis City Council members have agreed to a $20 million set of spending priorities for American Rescue Plan funds, but only after settling on guidelines behind closed doors.

“We took names off of everything because we are going to do this as a collaborative, all 13 of us,” said Councilman Edmund Ford Sr. after the council’s action on Oct. 19. “And I think we came up with something we all can live with,” said Councilman Edmund Ford Sr.

Along with fellow budget committee member Chase Carlisle, Ford had been tasked with coming up with the guidelines to end a potential stalemate on the funding. 

For weeks, individual council members had pushed, some passionately, for funding for projects and initiatives they felt would directly benefit their constituents.

In the end, the Ford and Carlisle opted to disassemble the baby into numerous working parts.

“We’ve used these guiding principles to craft a proposal that has two key points: One, each council member that made a proposal to this body will receive a portion of that available funding. In short, no one is walking away empty-handed.

“Two, the council will be making targeted, large-scale investments that will make a greater impact over small and scattered investments,” said Carlisle.

What came out in the wash was funding for a variety of priorities, including $3 million each for a supermarket or grocery store in North Memphis, affordable housing grants and a satellite homeless facility in Raleigh operated by the Hospitality Hub.

Waste collection will also benefit from $1.7 million. Competition from trucking outfits have made qualified sanitation drivers scarce. Breakdowns and other maintenance issues have also hindered trash collection in Memphis. Meanwhile, public transportation initiatives pulled in $1.5 million in funding. Several other initiatives are set for an influx of cash in smaller amounts.

“We know ARPA funding can be put to good use a million different ways, but we must land on how to appropriate $20 million (the council’s share of the city’s $161 million in federal rescue funds). It’s our opinion that targeted funding that this body has deemed to be priorities is the most equitable, efficient and effective way,” surmised Carlisle.

Although every proposal took a hit, the option to take another look at extra funding was left open. 

 “Down the road, if we need funding for certain things, I think we can come back to the table,” said Ford.

The City of Memphis Finance Department will determine the eligibility for the funding. A quarterly written report on the allocations will be given to the council until the ARPA fund expires in December 2024.

A vote on $68 million in proposed items was put off until November.