"We have a bunch of people who, (the) only thing they want to do is cut, and cut, and cut, and cut and cut, and cut, and cut, and cut, and cut, and cut, and cut."
Memphis City Councilman Harold Collins is a man who knows of what he speaks. He now admits that, for years, he too felt that slashing city government costs and size was the only solution when dealing with the annual city budget. But, as he prepared his own budget proposal this year, he experienced a game-changing epiphany.
"I think it's a Memphis vision. The key to it is we have to get everybody to agree and buy into the vision."
After six failed votes Tuesday night on various proposals, it was Collins who planted the seeds of compromise which led to the passage of the City's fiscal 2014 budget. Using portions of his original proposal, the tax rate was agreed to at $3.40. It gives the city money enough to address the State Comptroller's concerns over funding for city reserves, reinstating the 4.6 percent in salary cuts to city employees, adding 10 new code enforcement officers and a combined 2 million dollars for libraries and community centers.
A relieved Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, as usual, tried to find the silver lining in all the chaos that had come before day's end.
"The fact of the matter is that at the end of the morning, I almost said at the end of the day, the city of Memphis is functioning and it is functioning in a fiscally sound manner," said Wharton.
But, in arriving at a compromise solution, you had to wonder, if it had been a football game who would and who wouldn't have received game balls besides the obvious choice of Collins. Well, Edmund Ford Jr. would come to mind because it looked early on as if his comprehensive plan was going to be adopted. But, Ford made a major miscalculation in allegedly assuring Reid Hedgepeth his plan would eliminate the weights and measures division, which Hedgepeth favored. However, Ford lost Hedgepeth's support when he found out the Council Chairman had told colleague Bill Boyd it was going to be reinstated in the proposal. In the end, the 190-thousand-division budget wasn't cut. However, support for Ford's plan had run aground. With a plan not that much different from Ford's, Collins saw his opening.
"When I saw that there was some dissension on some items, just small items. I figured there was an opportunity for us to circle the wagons and come up with some compromise," said Collins.
As for others, it was a long night at the O.K. Corral. Lee Harris' valiant attempt to chop the Council's food money again crashed and burned. Hedgepeth and Shea Flinn spent most of the night just trying to poke holes in Collin's plan. Budget Chairman Jim Strickland seemed content to run crowd control since his plan never picked up momentum. Meanwhile, veteran colleagues Bill Boyd and Myron Lowery both proved flexible and sage in finally throwing their support behind the compromise.
Though Collins wishes there were more money for libraries and community centers, the former "Dr. No" of the Council seems now rapt in a new vision of the city's future....a little at a time.
"Maybe three cents, next time maybe three cents next time...and guess what happens? You got your vision. You got your streets paved. You got people feeling good about themselves and now you got your city back."
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