Presenting a Budget for a Stronger Memphis

News Update

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A few moments ago, I delivered my second budget proposal to our partners on the Memphis City Council. I pledged to them the same spirit of collaboration that led us to last year’s result -- unanimous votes to approve those budgets in just seven minutes.

It won’t be easy; this was an extremely tough budget that we’ve spent hours and hours crafting. But we know it’s the kind of government you expect and deserve -- just as you expect and deserve transparency. That’s why I’m sending you this email today and suggesting you visit to view the raw documents and learn more.

Last year, we laid a foundation -- both with that collaborative spirit and an adopted budget that defined what we mean when we say “brilliant at the basics.” This budget proposal continues on this foundation and moves forward -- making a stronger Memphis by sustaining that reorganization around core city services, by increasing what we do for our young people, by strengthening public safety, and by being the responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars that we all must be.

Briefly, I want to hit the highlights:

This budget provides more opportunities for our youth. Here’s how:

  • We’re expanding hours at our libraries -- including re-opening 10 branches on Fridays after they’ve been closed on that day for many years.
  • We’re helping kids learn to read. All 24 of our summer camps this year will now have a literacy component, increasing from the seven we did last year. And our libraries are beginning an interactive reading program in four branches.
  • We’re giving young people productive outlets. Next spring, we’ll continue spring break camps. And our libraries will continue their quest to expand teen programming, which increased dramatically last year.
  • And we’re giving young people opportunities. We will sustain the two jobs programs that open the eyes of 1,400 of our young people.

Yet we know the No. 1 job of city government is to provide for public safety. Here are some examples of how we’ll make ours a stronger city by doing that:

  • We all know by now that our administration inherited a police force with its lowest staffing level in 10 years. Changing that direction has been a major focus of all of ours.
  • This budget funds pay increases for police to improve retention, increases staffing through large recruiting classes, and allocates more for overtime to concentrate our efforts in high-crime areas.
  • And as we probably all know by now, nearly 20 percent of the calls that our Memphis Fire Emergency Medical Services team responds to are unnecessary -- and this year we’ll begin to reduce that number by putting into action the Smarter Cities Challenge recommendations from IBM.
  • We’ve improved our health insurance offerings, giving all of our employees more options for their families. And although some employees, particularly fire fighters, selected policies costing the city more money, it was worth it to make our employees more satisfied.

To be a stronger Memphis, we must take care of the fundamentals -- be brilliant at the basics. Here are a few more examples of how this budget will do just that:

  • We’ll fill more potholes and pave more streets through $18.5 million in street paving. That’s a $2 million increase from last year -- and almost double what the city did three years ago.
  • We’ll help our homeless change their lives for the better by sustaining our funding of Work Local.
  • We’ll help people get to work by sustaining last year’s increased funding levels of the Memphis Area Transit Authority.
  • We’ll continue to solidify our financial health and our retirees’ benefits by funding 88 percent of the actuarial required contribution (ARC) to our pension fund. That’s ahead of the 83 percent we’re required to fund this year.

We’ll also invest in infrastructure and solid services by proposing modest fee increases for our storm water and sewer funds -- about $5 per household per month. The federal consent decree is prompting this in part, and we’ll be able to better control flooding in our city by improving our storm water system.

But most importantly? We can do all of this and still keep our citizens’ property taxes level. This budget does not call for a property tax increase. City government must continue to maximize what we do while at the same time not placing an undue burden on our residents and not stifling the economic growth we’ve been seeing this past year. This budget proposal also does not dip into reserves, and it is balanced.

I ended my remarks to the City Council today with this: The work we did together last year was another major step toward the improved fiscal health of this city. The rating agencies assigned us an improved outlook, and shortly after the budget passed, the state Comptroller lauded what we’re doing. His words: “If you continue on this path, Memphis will reclaim its rightful place among the truly vibrant cities of the world.”

I want us to continue on that path.

But more than that, the budget passed last year helped change lives. We’re rebuilding our police department. We reduced 911 call answer time from a minute on average to under 13 seconds. We’ve transformed Memphis Animal Services. We’ve improved our economy for all by increasing minority and women-owned business spending by more than 30 percent.

I know you want this positive momentum to continue. And I know you want to see other examples of things we’ve collectively turned around, too. So I look forward to the work these next few weeks to deliver a budget that will enable us to continue changing lives for the better in our city.

I hope you’ll follow along at, and on Twitter and Facebook.

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