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Memphis City Council mulls police residency; delays utility-rate action

The Memphis City Council on Tuesday decided to delay all votes on proposed MLGW rate hikes while the utility’s administrators figure out if changes in salaries and benefits will affect their proposed budget.

In conjunction with that action, Council Chairman Kemp Conrad appointed a three-member impasse committee.

With two council meetings remaining in 2019, council members also held the first reading to amend residency requirements for police officers and firefighters. If the measure is approved, voters will have the final say via a referendum at the polls next year.

In an executive committee meeting earlier this month, MLGW officials laid out details of a plan that included a $14 a month hike for residents. The plan is to be phased in within the next three years. The additional funds would be used to complete an overhaul of the electric, water and gas infrastructure.

If the proposal is approved, electric rates would go up 4.2 percent in July 2020 and then 1.5 percent in January 2021 and again in 2022. Water rates would go up 15 percent in July 2020 and an additional 7 percent in January 2021 and 5 percent in January 2022. Gas rates would also increase by 2 percent, effective January 2022.

A matter of residency

Currently, public safety workers employed by the city are required to live within Shelby County. If approved, an amendment before the council would allow officers to live in neighboring counties or within 50 miles.

Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings has pushed for the council to lift the requirements to recruit more public safety workers.

“We are grossly understaffed,” he pointed out to council members.

Rallings and Mayor Jim Strickland’s administration have asked council members to put the police and fire residency question to the voters; but some council members are in opposition.

“My problem is that we are facing a police shortage across the country, and you have some cities who have a residency requirement and some who don’t,” Councilman Martavius Jones said after the meeting.

“So even if we implement one there is no assurance that being able to recruit within a 50-mile radius would actually help us.”

Jones and other critics of the proposed residency changes said that it could possibly erode the city’s economic base.

“We have seen an increase in the number of fire and police officers who have chosen to move outside of Memphis and Shelby County. They were hired before 2005, where it was not required to live within Memphis and Shelby County,” Jones said.

“If you have 30 people to exercise that, and each is making $50,000 a year, that is $1.5 million benefiting counties outside of Shelby County and the City of Memphis.”

The new amendments included a preferential hiring system for applicants who live within Memphis city limits, the establishment of a take-home car program for MPD and limited hiring to neighboring counties within a 50-mile radius of the city.

In other action:

* The council is moving ahead with plans for the new Loews Convention Center Hotel, approving a five percent tax on goods and services for its creation.

*  District 3 representative Patrice Robinson was voted council chairperson for 2020. Councilman Frank Colvett (District 2) was selected co-chair.

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