MEMPHIS, TN – While Memphis police and fire employees have faced salary cuts, job freezes and attrition – they have not faced layoffs.
From the first day Memphis Mayor A C Wharton took office, he has maintained that his public safety divisions would be the last to see cuts.
But now, the mayor said the city is in a financial quagmire and something has to be given up.
“For the whole time I’ve been in office, that’s the first thing we want to protect,” he said.
It seems the day could be approaching when police and firefighters are placed on the chopping block for possible job cuts.
This is the first time that the mayor has said he would not exclude police and fire employees from layoffs and that everything is on the table.
“I’m not saying yes, I’m not saying no. I’m simply saying that when we go before the council, we will have looked at everything,” said Wharton.
The city’s $47 million shortfall is a vestige of the city’s financial responsibility to Memphis City Schools. Though the school system is merging with Shelby County Schools, the city still owes one more year.
“I can operate city government with the current tax rate, but when you have a $60-plus million school obligation out there and not a dedicated revenue stream for it, that’s the big thing. If we could get that out of the picture, we wouldn’t have to have this discussion,” said Wharton.
The quagmire comes into play because the council turned down a one-time tax increase to pay for schools.
And though the council dipped into reserves and cut grants to meet the current budget shortfall, that won’t help with the next budget cycle.
The mayor is not giving specifics about any possible cuts.
“Until we complete the review and sit with the budget chair, and chair of the council, we don’t know,” said Wharton.
City budget hearings begin Saturday, April 28th, the sit-down with Budget Chairman Jim Strickland will take place in the coming days.