A major tax hike is about to hit Memphis homeowners unless some alternative can be figured out by city council as they review the city's fiscal year 2014 budget.
Tuesday evening was the first budget hearing where council members looked for solutions.
Even budget chairman Jim Strickland admitted it's going to be hard to avoid a tax increase.
Several division directors presented their department budgets. They're all pretty much in line with last year. There's an increase to fire and police and a 2.8 percent pay restoration for workers. Mayor A C Wharton is also proposing a 28-cent tax increase to fill a budget gap left by lower property assessments.
It's a difference of priorities between many of the council and the mayor.
"The salary restoration of course, but also the additional funds for fire and police," Mayor Wharton said. "which will help us do the testing we need to do to make sure the officers have the opportunity to move up in the ranks, we have to do it right."
"I think we also ought to have the goal of not raising our tax rate," Councilman Strickland countered. "So, hopefully we can work out all this. But if not were going to have to make some tough choices."
Council has yet to propose ideas that will substitute for a tax increase, but some votes no on every budget proposal because cuts were not included. One major division presented was Fire Director Alvin Benson. He says if council cut back on his budget at all, it would mean closing two fire stations.
"Yes we have fiscal challenges we want to be financially responsible," Chief Benson said. "We want to do that, but not at the expense of public safety. So yes, additional cuts beyond what we've already done is something we would not be in agreement with."
Another issue is solid waste management. A few years ago the council raised the fee to buy new garbage trucks with the promise of lowering them back this year. But Public Works Director Dwan Gilliom says he needs that revenue going forward.
That should be a sticking point as the process moves farther along.
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