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Residency for police, firefighters headed back to Memphis City Council

“Do you want Memphis tax dollars benefiting another county?”

Memphis City Councilman Martavius Jones, who posed the question, said he doesn’t. That’s why the Super District 8-3 representative will seek to remove the ballot question on expanding residency requirements for police and firefighters from the November ballot, despite the City Council’s recent approval.

The outgoing council approved the referendum question on a 10-2 vote during its last meeting (Dec. 17). The approved referendum measure sets out that during the next November election residents would get to vote on allowing the Memphis Police Department and Memphis Fire Department to hire applicants who live in nearby counties or within a 50-mile radius of Memphis.

The city’s current residency requirement requires all city employees to live within Shelby County.

Meanwhile, the issue of residency also is percolating on the Shelby County Board of Commissioners agenda. A proposed ordinance, rejected on the first of three readings Jan. 27, would allow voters to decide if county employees should be required to live in Shelby County. Currently, the charter requires employees to live in the county.

Jones said he would seek to remove the City-Council-approved referendum at the next council meeting, Feb. 4. He said the city’s tax base is at stake.

“An eroding tax base means that there is less money to fix Memphis roads, infrastructure and to pay the salaries of the needed public service jobs in Memphis,” he said.

Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings said the efforts to extend the residency requirements are needed to address a “recruitment crisis.”

There are 2,075 commissioned officers in the city and Rallings said the city administration has a goal of a police force of 2,300 by the end of this year.

“If we don’t do something about it now, I just don’t know where this is going to go,” Rallings said, reiterating that he and his team have done all that they can to recruit police officers.

Jones doesn’t believe that’s the case and said that they should be able to hire officers willing to relocate from the bordering states of Mississippi and Arkansas.

“People relocate for higher-paying jobs every day,” Jones said. “Before we subsidize the average incomes for counties outside of Shelby, I feel that we should do a better job of recruiting in those areas.”

Because officers in Arkansas and Mississippi make substantially less than those in Memphis, Rallings and his team should be able to “lure them with higher-paying jobs,” Jones said.

At the Dec. 17 meeting when the referendum was approved, six outgoing council members cast their votes. Jones contends that the newest members who took office in January should be allowed to weigh in.

“These elected officials, who will serve for four, possibly eight years should have a say in this matter.”

Rhonda Logan and J.B. Smiley Jr. are two of the incoming council.

“I believe it’s up to the voters to decide, but it’s up to us as elected representatives to do our due diligence to inform and empower our constituents,” said Logan (District 1). “We have between now and the November election to have healthy conversations around it.”

Smiley (Super District 8-1) said he agreed with Jones’ stance on the erosion of the city’s tax dollars, but still believes that the voters should decide.

“I don’t think the council should speak for the constituents. We will be taking it out of the hands of the people; and I think when we have an opportunity to let the people decide, we should take it.”

Jones said that in the United States there are some decisions that the residents have entrusted their representative to make for them.

“I feel this is one of them,” he said.

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