Special Update

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I try not to email this group outside of Friday afternoons, but I felt that this issue was important enough to break that practice. Yesterday, I sent the email below to city council members regarding the third reading of an ordinance setting in stone our policy of not extending sewer service into unincorporated Shelby County.


Dear Council members –

Tomorrow, you have the sewer ordinance set for third reading.  The ordinance affects the unincorporated parts of Shelby County.

For decades before 2008, Memphis extended sewer service beyond city limits, waited until an areas were developed, and then annexed them.  About 10 years ago, the state changed annexation laws and effectively terminated annexations.  In addition, the state and the county eliminated the city’s zoning authority for land three miles outside the city limits.  If our authority ends at our city limits, our responsibilities should also end at the city limits.

While our administration has addressed you on this issue and I have discussed it with some of you, I wanted to briefly review with you why the City should not extend any sewer service beyond our current service area.

First, there is probably no city in the country that extends sewers beyond their borders.  We know that Arlington and Collierville do not, despite the fact that they are closer to the unincorporated areas nearest Blue Oval City, the area opponents claim to want to serve with homes.  It appears that the opponents of this ordinance have not even asked these cities for sewer service despite the fact that some of them reside or have their offices in those cities.

Second, we need to prioritize Memphis residents.  As Director Knecht has explained and will do so again tomorrow, we have limited capacity in our system.  I believe that what capacity we have must be used for Memphis residents and businesses.  As Memphis 3.0 has codified, we must “build up, not out.”

Third, in our history, when we focus on sprawl and development outside the city, Memphis loses population.  Between 1980 and 2010, 120,000 people moved out of Memphis – an average of 40,000 per decade.  Let me explain.

The census in 1980 shows a population of roughly 646,000, while in 2010 it also shows about 646,000.  What the census does not show is that, during those 30 years, Memphis annexed areas (such as Cordova and Hickory Hill) containing 120,000 people.  Therefore, if you start with 646,000 and add 120,000, but end up at 646,000, 120,000 must have moved out.

From 2010 – 2020, Memphis stopped allowing massive developments in the unincorporated areas to add onto our sewers, and we focused on growth in our city.  In part as a result of this decision, the census numbers improved.  At worst, the 2020 census showed a 13,000 person decrease, while our review showed an increase of at least 2,000 people.  Our appeal to the Census Bureau is pending.

Fourth, our taxes will go up, and debt will increase.  Historically, when the city extended sewers and waited for the area to be developed before annexing it, the County had to improve roads and build schools and fire stations.  The County raised taxes and incurred new debt – way beyond any new revenue paid by the new homes. And as we know, Memphians are two-thirds of county taxpayers.


1990              3.31                           3.78

2000              2.77                           3.54

2010              3.19                           4.02

2020              3.19                           4.05

YEAR              COUNTY DEBT (in billions)

1990              0.4

1995              0.7

2000              1.0

2005              1.6

2010              1.7

2015              1.2

2021              1.1

Fifth, we have plenty of available lots already in Shelby County.  Opponents of the ordinance have told me that we need 20,000 new homes in Shelby County for the Blue Oval City employees.  Please remember that there will be about 8,000 new jobs at Blue Oval.

As of February 2022, Shelby County had over 60,000 lots available to build new homes.

Arlington                  10,230

Bartlett                      5,640

Collierville                 6,180

Germantown           2,070

Lakeland                   6,180

Memphis                  32,160

Millington                 5,370

Sixth, if Eads wants sewers and the other added costs, let them incorporate as a city and pay for these improvements themselves.  The reason this solution is not being pursued is because the people who live in Eads now do not want thousands of new homes and added costs; they moved to the area for the rural nature of it, and they want to keep it that way. 

Thank you for your consideration.  If you have any questions or need me to clarify any information, please let me know.

Thanks, Jim