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Memphis City Council approves $708 million budget; no tax hike

The Memphis City Council unanimously approved a $708 million budget on Tuesday that includes pay raises for all city workers, additional investment into disenfranchised communities, and more money for Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA).

The changes, set to go into effect July 1, come with no tax increase to residents.

The largest portion of the budget comes from the general fund, with the majority of the money going towards public safety workers. Although the Memphis Police Association (MPA) fought for a five percent raise for officers, the newly approved budget gives them a 4 percent increase, along with firefighters and dispatchers.

Before the vote, Michael Williams, president of the MPA urged the council to vote in favor of the five percent increase.

“We still want to trust the council to do what’s right,” Williams said. “You always ask us to trust the system, trust the process. You guys heard our proposal, heard the city’s proposal, and adopted our proposal.”

Despite his plea, the council moved forward with four percent. Other city workers will receive raises of one percent. During the May 21 meeting, many of the labor unions representing these workers requested more, citing the need to be more competitive to recruit additional public safety workers to the city.

Other budget highlights included fully funding pension for city employees, a new library in Frayser, a fire station in Whitehaven and the creation of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

According to Mayor Jim Strickland, the fund will be the city’s first measure dedicated to ensuring all Memphians have affordable, safe and clean housing.

MATA will also get another $2.5 million added to budget. Strickland said this brings the total funding increase for local transit to $5 million since he took office.

No council member voted against the budget.

In other action:

The council also elected to keep the $5 cover charge to enter Beale Street in place until the end of September. The fee was originally enacted by the council in May to combat violence in one of the city’s busiest areas.

According to Council Chairman Kemp Conra,d the fee goes toward security for the street, including the installation of more SkyCops. Local law enforcement supported the fee.

“If you run an open bar for 17,000 to 20,000 people, there are some issues you may run into,” said Michael Rawlings, director of the Memphis Police Department. “And I think the Beale Street security fee helps that.”

Some council members expressed skepticism surrounding the fee. Councilwoman Jamita Swearengen called it “a big cop-out” to cite that the cover charge is for safety measures.

“We haven’t heard of how the money will be collected, who’s going to house the money, how the money will be transferred to the Memphis City Council,” she said before voting.

Ultimately, the council voted 8 to 4 in favor of the fee. Council members Conrad, Ford Canale, Sherman Greer, Frank Colvett Jr., Worth Morgan, Cheyenne Johnson, Reid Hedgepeth, and Gerrie Currie voted in favor. Council members Joe Brown, Martavious Jones, Patrice Robinson and Swearengen voted against the cover charge.

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