MEMPHIS, Tenn. — There are threats of lawsuits after the Memphis City Council passed the operating budget for the next fiscal year Tuesday evening.
In addition to eliminating subsidies retirees receive for health care, the cost of healthcare will go up for current and retired employees.
Hundreds of people showed up to share their concerns about the budget, particularly concerning health care and pensions.
People spilled into the hallways, an overflow room was even set up.
Each person who wanted to speak had to fill out a card and were limited to two minutes.
Around 100 people signed up to speak.
Many wanted the council to delay the vote.
City Councilwoman Wanda Halbert tried, but her amendment failed.
In a 7-5 vote, the council voted in favor of a budget that includes Mayor A C Wharton’s plan to cut retiree and current employee health benefits, but keeps the property tax rate from going up.
He said the money saved will help the unfunded pension and increasing healthcare costs.
However, Mayor Wharton wasn’t at the meeting.
Instead, his CAO George Little addressed the council.
Several council members expressed their concerns about Wharton not being there, and even Councilwoman Janis Fullilove called him a, “coward.”
Wharton addressed the media in his office after the meeting.
He said he’s been open and transparent with people and the council and he’s happy with the approved budget.
As for not being there, he responded by saying he didn’t want to, “get into that drama.”
Wharton said he didn’t want to raise property taxes because that would hurt city expansion.
However, former employees are so angry about the budget, they are threatening to sue.
Some retirees stormed out of the meeting fuming and yelling “the city screwed them.”
They also fear this will hurt the city in the long-run, because, “future, hard-working officers will go to other cities with better benefits.”
Council members passed an amendment to drop the premium health care increase from 57 to 24 percent for both current and former employees.
They also approved an amendment that if a person smokes cigarettes or cigars, there will be an additional surcharge.
Also, the city will no longer offer health insurance to spouses if the spouse can get insurance through their own job.
“We are going to court,” said Memphis Firefighters Association President Thomas Malone. “What this did is it forced retirees to be out of the city’s insurance and go try to find [another insurance] that they can’t get, because they have pre-existing conditions, or they are going to have to pay [thousands] to pay the premium.”
One retired MPD officer who served the city for 33 years and was shot three times during his duty said he won’t be able to find medical insurance, “because of pre-existing medical conditions. I won’t find it. I won’t. I have already tried.”
The city’s attorney told the council during the meeting they were “on solid legal ground.”
Some councilmembers claimed if they didn’t do this, they would be forced to increase property taxes.
“This is not happy. This is not a scare tactic. This is not something anyone who gets elected into office wants to be doing, but those are the options,” said Councilman Shea Flinn, who also said there was no “magic option.”
The city council did not discuss whether to change the pension plan to a 401K-style plan.
WREG is told they will likely discuss that in the next coming months.
Unlike the budget, there is no deadline to change the plan.
By law, the council had to pass the budget by the end of the month.
Voting in favor of the budget was Kemp Conrad, Shea Flinn, Edmund Ford Jr., Reid Hedgepeth, Myron Lowery, Bill Morrison and Jim Strickland.
Bill Boyd, Joe Brown, Janis Fullilove, Wanda Halbert and Lee Harris voted against the budget.
Harold Collins was not at the meeting. He told WREG he was out of town for a prior engagement.
"Delay this vote! Make sure no one is a sacrificial lamb!" yells one woman at the city council. Audience applauds.—
Jessica Gertler (@jgertler_WREG3) June 17, 2014