Memphis Mayor A C Wharton is calling for a 47-cent property tax increase to cover the cost of court-ordered, state-mandated school funding, reports The Commercial Appeal.
“It’s all about the schools,” Wharton said Monday of the proposal he will present to Memphis City Council. “We will not ask for a tax increase to run city government. The budget I present will be clear. We’ll operate city government on the same amount we used last year.”
Because the city’s legally mandated funding of Memphis City Schools expires with the merger of city and Shelby County Schools in 2013, Wharton said the tax increase he’s proposing will be for just one year.
“This is truly the terminal year for school funding,” Wharton said.
The city’s current overall tax rate is $3.19 per $100 of assessed value, which includes $3.01 for city operations and 18 cents for Memphis City Schools. The budget Wharton will present to the City Council will call for a combined tax rate of around $3.66, with $3.01 for city operations and the rest for schools.
“It’s not inefficiency, bloat or waste that’s driving the cost of government. It’s the declining value of property and school funding, pure and simple,” he said. “We have kept the cost of government down, but we are still obligated to fund the school system.”
Unsurprisingly, there were no surprises in the 2011 Memphis city election– unless you count the apparent irrelevance of Mayor A C Wharton’s maiden effort at a Ford-style coattails ballot.
More from Jackson Baker’s look at Tuesday’s election results in Memphis:
Otherwise, the mayor — who breezed to an easy 2-to-1 victory over his closest opponent, former city councilman Edmund Ford Sr, and eight other opponents — had no worries. Neither did any of the other incumbents who had opposition — including councilwoman Janis Fullilove in Super-District 8, Position 2, who was opposed by the much touted minister/activist Roslyn Nichols, a Wharton endorsee.
Fullilove won over Nichols and two other opponents by a comfortable 57.83 percent margin. Another Wharton endorsee, University of Memphis law professor Lee Harris, ran neck-to-neck in District 7 with Kemba Ford, the daughter of former state Senator John Ford, who is currently languishing in a federal prison in Mississippi but was surely following the election returns with some degree of vicarious pride.
Harris, who had an abundance of establishment support, and Ford, the two of whom will now vie in a runoff, were the leaders in a large field of contenders, with the rest trailing far behind.
District 7 had been the bailiwick of former councilwoman Barbara Swearengen Ware, who retired after accepting a sentence for official misconduct, and was the only Council district with an open seat.
By Adrian Sainz, Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Known for his mediation skills and stylish suits, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton has guided this gritty city through a $60 million budget deficit, a school funding battle and a historic Mississippi River flood.
Through it all, the silver-haired former lawyer has remained low-key and calm. Those traits have helped him maintain his support as he prepares for re-election Thursday in a city that has been beleaguered by poverty, crime and unemployment.
“I’ve got to have an upbeat spirit, no matter what challenges we face,” Wharton said. “That aspect of being mayor is as important, or sometimes more important, than balancing the books.”
Wharton won a special election in 2009 to replace Willie Herenton, the city’s first elected black mayor who resigned after 18 years in office. Wharton previously served as Shelby County mayor for about seven years and was the first African-American law professor at the University of Mississippi, a position he held for 25 years. He also was Shelby County’s chief public defender.
After nine months of argument and acrimony, after a $1 million referendum and another $1 million in legal costs, the end to Shelby County’s schools consolidation standoff came quickly Wednesday, reports the Commercial Appeal.
The settlement U.S. District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays approved and began reading in his courtroom just before 3 p.m. calls for a 23-member unified countywide board to take over Oct. 1. It will oversee the winding down of operations of Memphis City Schools and the currently all-suburban Shelby County Schools, while also assuming responsibility for adopting a transition plan for a consolidated school system that begins with the 2013-14 school year.
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, who appeared shortly before the deal was reached to give his assent, said the agreement prevents what could have been more years of legal and civic quarrels over schools.
Following his Aug. 8 order clarifying many legal issues, Mays held mediation sessions that ran most of Friday, Monday and Wednesday in order to hammer out a deal.
“The lawyers and the court have reached what I firmly believe to be a fair and equitable resolution of this controversy,” said Wharton, a longtime trial lawyer who was Shelby County mayor for seven years before winning the city post in 2009. “In many instances had it not been for the wisdom of (Judge Mays) and wisdom and patience of the many seasoned attorneys on this case, it would have dragged on for years.
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., has a slightly higher job approval rating than Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, but both fare better than President Barack Obama among Shelby County voters, according to a poll released Thursday and reported by the Commercial Appeal.
The Yacoubian Research public opinion poll says Obama had a net positive approval rating of 43 percent, a boost from his 19 net positive last September, which researchers attributed to his speech at the Booker T. Washington High School commencement exercises last month.
The poll of 400 likely voters showed Obama has 63 percent “excellent” or “good” ratings, but 20 percent “below average” or “poor,” for a net of 43 percent positive.
Cohen had a net positive score of 62 percent among 220 likely voters within the 9th Congressional District — 69 percent approval minus 7 percent disapproval. The poll found 75 percent of African-American women approved of his performance, 73 percent of African-American men, 72 percent of white women, and 53 percent of white men.
Wharton’s net positive score was one percentage point lower than Cohen’s at 61 percent favorable — 70 percent approving and 9 percent disapproving — going into the Oct. 6 mayoral election. The poll sample was 260 likely voters.
By Lucas Johnson
MEMPHIS, Tenn.– Memphis Mayor A C Wharton said Friday that he and Gov. Bill Haslam will strive to work together despite the mayor’s strong opposition to Haslam’s signing of a bill delaying the Memphis school system’s attempted merger with Shelby County’s system.
Haslam, a Republican who took office last month, signed into law last week the legislation passed by the GOP-controlled legislature. Wharton told The Associated Press that the measure has “now imposed a barrier to the actual merger.”
However, Wharton said, he has talked to the governor since the law was signed and they have discussed other issues such as creating more jobs and establishing plans to help more students graduate from college.
Anyone who thinks their relationship has deteriorated “is quite naive and unrealistic. I just don’t operate that way,” the mayor said.