Memphis City Council gives green light to debt restructuring plan

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- After more than two hours of discussion, the Memphis City Council approved a debt restructuring plan for more than $200 million.

It was a long meeting Tuesday afternoon, at times getting heated as members listened to plans laid out by the PFM Group to refinance $134 million and borrow $75 million to avoid large debt increase over the next few years.

The council discussed the plan for an hour and a half in their executive session, then another 45 minutes in their general meeting, but even after passing the plan, some members aren't happy.

Justin Wilson, the Tennessee State Comptroller, made the trip to Memphis to show his support of the restructuring plan and told the council something must be done.

"The city of Memphis has financial issues and we looked at a proposal that we believe is a partial solution to the financial issue," Wilson said Tuesday.

The plan that took months to put together, but it's still not something everyone likes.

Council member and mayoral candidate Jim Strickland was against the proposal and brought his own idea to the table.

"It's just not fair to take debt from this generation and pass it on the next one," he said.

Strickland said the city needs to step up and pay some of the debt, but the administration never gave council any alternatives.

Director of Finance for the city, Brian Collins, was firm this is the best plan for the city.

"In my opinion, the best plan possible is in front of you now. If there is a better one, I wish someone would bring it forward, but I do not believe that there is," Collins said before the council.

Council members Harold Collins, Kemp Conrad, Shea Flinn, and Jim Strickland voted against the plan.

Finances have continued to tighter as the city faces a required increase to its contribution to the pension fund from $45 million to $79 million.

That has caused a change in benefits for city employees.

A consultant for the city estimated the pension is underfunded by  $467 million.

A report commissioned by the Memphis Firefighters union put the number at $301 million and a report done by PricewaterhouseCoopers which put it at $682 million.

Pension proponents say the plan has worked well and would actually save the city money compared to funding a 401 style contribution plan.