Memphis fire and police unions suggest sales tax increase to restore benefits

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. —If members of the Memphis Police and Fire unions have their way, you’ll have a chance to vote on increasing the sales tax in Memphis by half a percent.

Members of the two public safety unions have started petitioning to have voters make the choice at the polls in November.

The unions say the proceeds from the city sales tax increase — from 2.25 percent to 2.75 percent — would be used to restore and maintain the health care benefits to levels they were in July 2014 and to restore and maintain the pension benefits.

Public safety and crime are two things often talked about in Memphis.

Over the weekend, the Memphis Fire Fighters Association and the Police Union started collecting signatures.

"Increase sales tax a half percent to restore fire and police benefits and insurance that has been taken away. We feel like it's a recruitment and retention tool," Thomas Malone, President of Memphis Firefighters Association, said.

Here's a look at what the petition says.

It describes what the sales increase would go toward and goes on to say any remaining proceeds shall be used for street maintenance and pre-kindergarten education.

Malone says they initially wanted to be on the referendum ballot, but instead have to do an initiative ballot.

They plan to be out speaking in neighborhoods and at special functions with their petitions.

"We're trying to have citizens of the city sing on to put it on the ballot. Not to say that they agree with it or they disagree, but we want it on the ballot. Let the citizens vote, and let the public decide whether they want a top notch fire and police department," Malone said.

Police Union President Mike Williams also asked for the citizens help if they want to spread the word by posting a video on Facebook.

"We the members of the Memphis Police Association need your help," Williams said.

Malone and Williams have been outspoken about other outside agencies coming in and recruiting Memphis public safety officers.

Malone says it might not be happening as much as it was years ago, but he believes improved benefits and pension will help keep talent in the Mid-South.

He says while it's difficult to nail down exact figures, ballpark estimates have the increase costing a little less than $50 a year on a family of four's grocery bill, generating more than $50 million.

Malone says it's a win for everyone.

The goal is to collect some 40,000 signatures by June 14 to get the issue on the ballot so taxpayers can make the decision.


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