Mayor Jim Strickland took the wraps off of his third budget on Tuesday, telling the Memphis City Council that what he proposes for the next fiscal year is crafted to build off of progress his administration has made in its “drive to run an efficient government that changes lives.”
The $668.7 million operating budget he proposes noticeably does not include a property tax increase.
Framing what he is pitching as a “budget for a safer Memphis,” Strickland set the table by saying it was important to understand “where we’ve been … to know where we’re going.”
Guided by the drive to run an efficient government that changes lives, he said, “we’ve come a long way these past two years.”
Strickland proposes an increase in police and patrols.
“Everywhere I go in this city, and probably everywhere you go, we hear the same thing: people want safer neighborhoods,” he said.
If passed as proposed, there would be funding for two large or three mid-sized police recruiting classes and an increase in police service technicians.
“By 2016, we were trending toward our smallest police force in a decade – and our highest violent crime rate in a decade, too,” Strickland said, calling attention to the record breaking 228 homicides in 2016.
“We’ve made some progress recently. Last week, the Crime Commission came out with its report on the first quarter of the year. Murders were down 38 percent and major violent crime was down five percent. No one is celebrating this, of course. But it’s undeniably encouraging news. Now let’s keep our foot on the pedal.”
There are no proposed pay raises for first responders, such as police and firefighters.
“Police and fire have gotten a combined 6 to 7.75 percent pay increase over those two plus years, which is very significant, but it’s important to remind folks of that, so we can’t do it every year, I wish we could,” said Strickland.
“I think it’s just another slap in the face,” Memphis Police Association President Mike Williams said. “He announced – and wants to tout – the biggest budget in (city) history.”
Williams, who ran against Strickland for mayor, said the city and the police union are still in negotiations about wages and benefits. He found it troubling that the mayor would rule out a pay increase while still “at an impasse.”
The MPA and the city have been at odds for years about benefits and pay, even leading to a police action in 2014 when more than 500 officers called in sick.
Williams told The New Tri-State Defender that within the past week 100 people were scheduled to take the police exam and only 16 showed up. He also said 60 officers have left the force this year.
Noting Strickland’s emphasis on more police officers, Williams said trying to reduce crime is more than police officers.
“They can’t do it all by themselves. We’ve got to lift up our children and give them something productive to do, intervene in their lives so they pick the right path and not the wrong path,” Williams said.
“If you ask the citizens of Memphis about the crime rate, I bet they’d beg to differ,” Williams said. “I’m not impressed with his budget, nor his crime fighting skills. He’s not doing us any favors. …
“If they don’t do something to move some numbers around, we’re going to be stuck with that we have,” Williams said. “Special interest people are going to benefit from this budget (more) than citizens of Memphis.”
Strickland also cautioned the city council about giving additional or across-the-board raises to city employees. If council members decide to give additional raises, they should be “honest” about where the money is coming from,” Strickland said.
“In the past 28 months, we’ve had more employee pay increases than in years prior,” Strickland said. “That’s because we worked together – we’ve been clear-eyed about our financial picture, we’ve compromised when we had to, and we’ve kept the big picture in mind.”
Councilman Edmund Ford, Jr. has pitched raising base pay for all current full-time employees to $15.50 an hour, costing a projected $1.45 million a year.
Other takeaways from the budget include adding 250 more youth employment opportunities, bringing the total to 1,500.
Mayor Strickland also focused on infrastructure, pledging $19 million for road re-paving.