Weekly Update

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A local news story ran this week about Memphis’ rank in the FBI crime statistics, but did not report that only 53% of agencies submitted data. Cities like Philadelphia, Baltimore, Birmingham, New Orleans, New York and Los Angeles are not included.

While it is impossible to accurately determine a top 20 list, we know for certain that our violent crime rate is too high. I have written extensively (here, here, here, and here just to give a few recent examples) about what city government is doing to address the situation.

Weak State Laws = A Slap on the Wrist

One reason that violent crime is too high in Memphis and Tennessee is that state law is weak in punishing violent acts. There is little deterrence in sentencing laws.

For instance, there is no mandatory prison time for shooting a gun at another individual; in fact, the law requires a judge to put an offender on probation unless there is some unusual circumstance. There are people convicted of interstate shootings in Memphis and Tennessee who were simply put on probation and back on our streets without punishment or intervention.

It appears to me that the sentencing law on aggravated assault was written well before guns were so extraordinarily available. 

However, there are solutions.

For several years, we have presented a bill to strengthen the sentences for road rage and interstate shootings.  Although the legislature has not yet adopted it, we will present it again in January when the session begins.  In addition, there are several legislators who are putting together bills on sentencing reform, and we are in discussions to add language to address the aggravated assault and aggravated burglary issues that we face.

State Budgetary Constraints on Memphis: As you may recall, the state eliminated the Hall Income Tax a couple years ago, which reduced the revenues of Memphis city government by $15 million. For those not familiar with it, the Hall income tax was imposed only on individuals and other entities receiving interest from bonds and notes and dividends from stock.

While the state’s Improve Act restored about $7 million to our budget, the net decrease is still $8 million.  In addition, the state has updated the way local governments must calculate our yearly pension payment (by reducing the discount rate), which will cost us $8 million more than it would have under last year’s rate.

To put this in context, our annual operating budget is a little more than $700 million, and a one percent raise for all city employees is roughly $4.5 million.  A one percent raise for only fire and police is around $3 million.

There is a solution. 

Twenty years ago, when the state was having serious budgetary challenges, they slightly altered the traditional allocation of sales taxes, which increased the state’s portion and decreased the portion to cities and counties.  We have supported for a few years now two bills to restore the traditional split. With the state having large surpluses each of the last several years, including a reported $2 billion surplus in recurring funds this year, we are hoping the bills can pass this upcoming session. Go here to read more about these two potential solutions.

These bills would net city government over $12 million per year.  As you know, one of our primary objectives in our plan to reduce crime is to recruit and retain more officers and ultimately reach a staffing level of 2,500 for the department.  With just under 2,000 officers now, we have a long way to go.  Significant pay increases are needed, and the reallocation of these sales taxes would allow us to give your police officers and fire fighters a four percent pay raise.

Our Requests for One-Time Funds: In addition to the surplus of $2 billion in recurring funds, it appears that the state also has $2 billion in surplus from nonrecurring funds.  We have asked state officials to help us fund some of our capital projects, which will result in catalytic improvement in the quality of life and overall experience in Memphis for decades to come.

Funding Requests: This year’s top budgetary priorities below:

  1. Waterfront District—We have a unique opportunity to expand Beale Street Landing and Greenbelt Park docks, as well as, create a lake and a series of additional docks and other improvements along the riverfront to increase economic development in the area. Go here to watch a fly-thru of what it could look like once complete.
  2. Leftwich Tennis Center—The new Leftwich Tennis Center will be the largest tennis facility within hundreds of miles, with 24 outdoor and 12 indoor courts — replacing the current facility of eight outdoor and four indoor courts. The new Leftwich will be well positioned to host United States Tennis Association regional and national tournaments, bringing visitors to Memphis year-round. It will also be a competitive host site for national, regional, and conference-level collegiate tournaments hosted by the U of M.
  3. Wolf River Greenway— The Wolf River Greenway is a 26-mile paved multi-use trail following the Wolf River from the confluence with the Mississippi River to the Germantown city limits. There are five shovel-ready phases that currently lack construction funds. These phases represent critical gaps in the 26-mile trail system.
  4. Brooks Museum—the $150 million, 112,000 sq.ft. New Brooks will be a world-class museum and great addition to the Memphis skyline.

These are all very ambitious projects, and with the state’s help, we will be able get them done.

Enjoy your weekend!


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