MEMPHIS, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) – Early voting in Memphis is underway and on the ballot is a referendum to raise sales tax by half a cent to restore benefits for retired first responders and bring back the pension.
If passed the referendum is expected to raise $54 million, but it’s not a guarantee the money will go towards those services.
Commissioner Edmund Ford Jr., who voted for the Memphis Police and Fire Pension Reform when he sat on the council in 2013, says the changes that were made back then were equitable and sustainable. He also says it put the city’s fiscal house back in order.
“Why would we go back and take six years of work and imperil it in one vote, it makes no sense,” Commissioner Ford explained.
During the last 6 months, we’ve seen signs and heavy campaigning by Memphis Police and Firefighter Associations, asking voters to support a plan to raise the city’s sales tax by half a cent to 9.75.
“We saw a retired fireman, 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,” said John Covington with the Memphis Police Association.
However, Commissioner Ford says putting the pensions back in place will do more harm to the city of Memphis than good.
“When I was on the council, when I was the chairman in 2013, there was a letter that specifically states that we need to put our financial house in order, otherwise they would have done it for us,” he explained.
Ford says most of the supporters rallying for this referendum do not live in the city of Memphis, so it doesn’t impact them.
“I know one that there are no legal pieces in place that says that the money has to go there and number 2, the county by state law can easily ask the citizens do they want half of the money coming to the county,” Ford stressed.
Ford says although those hard decisions were made back in 2014 and 2015, they had to be done for the future of Memphis. Voters will make the decision for themselves regarding this referendum on October 3.