Referendum to raise Memphis sales tax to restore benefits for police & fire will be on October ballot

Local News

MEMPHIS, Tenn. ( – It is rare when the police and fire department and the elections commission folks get together. In this case they need to.

They need to because of what has just happened.

After more than a year of work, and six months of checking signatures, a petition drive by the Memphis Police and the Firefighters Associations was successful.

Now, you folks will decide whether to raise the city’s sales tax by half a cent.  

The money would go to restoring health benefits to first responders, as well as for paving roads and funding pre-kindergarten.

John Covington is chief negotiator for the Memphis Police Association.

“We’re very excited,” he says, “… and as far as I know, this is the first time in Tennessee that a group succeeded in collecting petitions for a referendum on a local sales tax option.”

In January, the groups delivered more than a dozen boxes of petitions to officials. More than 130,000 names.

The trouble with petition drives is, many folks who sign might not live in Memphis, or maybe write down the wrong address. In this case, about 100,000 names were thrown out. But there was still enough to get the job done.

“It’s a pretty huge undertaking,” says Shelby County Election Administrator Linda Phillips. “In order to have a question like that on the ballot, the organization or group has to get 10% of the registered voters to sign a petition.”

The magic number in this case was 38,450, and they have at least that many.

Memphis currently has the lowest sales tax in Shelby County. Raise it by half a cent, it will be the same as all other Shelby communities.

“The next step,” Covington says is simple. “We catch our breaths and get ready to move forward. You’ll be hearing about this. There will be a campaign to educate folks and get the word out.”

You will get a chance to vote on this question during the Memphis City Election in October.

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