Push is on to restore first responders’ benefits with sales tax referendum on the Memphis ballot

Local Elections

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) – You think the weather is hot? I’ve got a story on a plan that would raise the sales tax to restore benefits to first responders that is about to catch fire.

All you’ve got to do is look at the signs to realize it’s election time.

The signs. Maybe you’ve seen them.

Memphis Police and Firefighter associations are supporting a plan to raise the sales tax by half-a-cent.

The money raised would restore pensions and health insurance benefits for retired workers.

Emotional? You bet, says Officer John Covington of the Memphis Police Association.

“We saw a retired fireman,” he says, “… in front of Bellevue Church, wearing his old turnout coat and his helmet. If that doesn’t tell you what this means, I don’t know what does.”

It is a big enough deal that the issue got former camera-shy Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham in front of one to express his support.

In the ad, Oldham says, “I’m for the public safety referendum because it makes Memphis safer. The referendum will restore benefits to first responders.”

It is a plan that is meant not just to restore benefits, but to raise money for pre-kindergarten and for road repairs.

The hope is it will stop cops from leaving.

But Memphis City Council Chairman Kemp Conrad says this is not an issue of cops leaving because of bad benefits. It’s about how there were no recruiting classes for a couple of years.

“How is giving health insurance to retirees going to help with retention?” Conrad asks. “They say attrition is in place and we’re not hiring people. We have hired 400 police officers in the last three years.”

Police have continued to leave. Even with hiring 400 officers, there has only been a gain of roughly 53 cops in three and a half years.

“It was a lack of recruiting ok,” Conrad says. “They talk about Pre-K. The city has led on that. It’s done. Potholes? We’ve doubled our paving budget.”

This will be the only referendum question on the ballot.

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