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Memphis Police And Fire Associations Push For Sales Tax Referendum

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) - The Memphis Police Association and Fire Association want better health care benefits, but that'll cost the city $30 million it doesn't have, so the unions want you to foot the bill. 

Since July 2014, one of the priorities for the Memphis Police Association (MPA) has been to convince the city of Memphis to restore the healthcare benefits.  To restore the health care benefits city employees lost over the past six years, first responder associations want the city of Memphis to raise the sales tax. Currently, it's at 9.25% and officials want to raise that number by 0.5%, which would bring it to nearly 10%. 

We've heard of the sacrifices Memphis Police and Fire have made over the past six years. In 2011, Memphis Police officers dealt with a 4.6% pay cut and in 2016, officer's spouses were dropped from their insurance. 

"We met with Mayor Strickland in March of last year. He told us it would be a $35 million price tag to restore those benefits and he challenged us to find a revenue source, to find that revenue to restore those benefits," said Matt Cunningham, Negotiation Team Leader with the Memphis Police Association. "With the situation that crime has gotten into in this city, with how short the fire department is, with paramedics and fire fighters, how short the police department is with police officers, we feel the city is ready to do whatever it takes to bring those police officers and fire fighters on to the job."

In March 2017, Mayor Strickland told the MPA to restore these benefits would cost $29 million annually to the city of Memphis and he challenged the MPA to find from where that money would come. The MPA has identified a potential source for that revenue. Monday, they laid out the plan to get enough signatures to place a referendum on the November 2018 ballot to raise the sales tax. 

"We're still losing people, even though it's not in the numbers that we did initially. We are still losing people at a steady pace," said Thomas Malone, President of the Memphis Fire Fighters Association. "We know that nobody wants to raise taxes. I live in this city, I understand, but the thing about it is the sales tax is such a minuscule thing.  I've looked at other places and I've looked around the country and we still have a low sales tax even with this increase." 

Since 2014, the Memphis Police Department has lost nearly 500 officers, and Malone says that's a direct result of the department's loss of benefits.  

"If they are going to increase it again, where does that put us if where those numbers put us again, it's just something to think about as a consumer," said resident Ronald Boyd. 

The city of Memphis can raise its sales tax in two ways. The City Council can pass a resolution to put a referendum on the November 2018 ballot and let the citizens vote whether to raise the sales tax 0.5%, or the citizens of this city can petition the election commission to place a referendum on the November 2018 ballot to raise the sales tax. If the referendum passes as the result of the petition, the city council would have to raise the sales tax. 

Local 24 broke down the numbers, and if a sales tax increase does go into place, that's equal to about $50 in sales tax yearly for groceries for a family of four. Local 24 News spoke to several Memphis residents outside of the Benjamin Hooks Public Library who supports a sales tax increase.  

"I don't think their salaries are enough to put your life on the line every single day and have to go home and worry about who can we take to the doctor this month," said Rhonda Newton, who supports a sales tax increase.  

Memphis Police Association leaders say they must raise signatures from at least 10% of the city's population for it to go to a vote. 

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