Local & National News | July 01, 2024
The FY25 budget season was riddled with waves of multimillion dollar surprises stemming from poor public financial transparency and oversight forwarded by the previous Memphis City Council.

Does the Historic City Council care? Council Chair JB Smiley erupted after hearing a public comment accusing the Council of “not caring” following Council approval of a range of hefty FY25 tax and fee increases.

The increases include a forty-nine cent 18% property tax increase, a thirty-dollar 100% car registration fee increase, and a twelve-dollar 41% solid waste fee increase. These hefty increases came as the Council also failed to publicly notice the actual budget they passed.

The FY25 budget season was riddled with waves of multimillion dollar surprises stemming from poor public financial transparency and oversight forwarded by the previous Memphis City Council. Accessible are several Council remedies to facilitate a version of community budgeting to avoid such budgetary surprises. The remedies occur through the Council’s practice of public transparency and oversight.

But does the Historic majority female Council care enough to implement such remedies? Fresh off a disastrous budget season, we will soon find out if the Historic Council cares to implement solid public budgetary practices. And “budget season” really starts on July 1, not May 1 next year.

Most unexplainable this FY25 budget season were the budget NO votes by “The Boyz”. The Boyz are represented by the Council’s most powerful veteran members in Chair JB Smiley, Vice Chair Ford Canale, Budget Chair Chase Carlise and Mayor Paul Young. These Councilor NO votes came after The Boyz facilitated a budget season that failed to establish a solid budgetary foundation that could only yield the outcome of massive tax and fee increases, as proposed by the Young Administration.

And The Boyz are a racially diverse bunch, stifling any claims of “mean ole white man” led systemic racist oppression. Memphis public challenges are a multi-year product of racially diverse led failed transparency and oversight.

Solid Budgetary Foundation

Without establishing a strong budgetary foundation, any form of community budgeting is out the window. First, a budget is a “plan” of projected “future” revenue and expenditures to be realized. Financial “actuals” are a “historic” past record of year to date (YTD) realized public revenues and expenditures against budget, while disclosing “money in the bank” fund balances. Communicating both fund balances and actuals, monthly throughout the year, are needed to establish a solid budgetary foundation.

Under the leadership of The Boyz, the Historic Council did not care enough to establish a solid budget foundation to consider FY25 tax and fee increases by asking for actual FY24 YTD City financials from the Administration. This lacking request came after veteran Budget Chair Carlisle failed to implement Council FY24 budgetary oversight safeguards, during a newly elected transition year, which would have made monthly YTD actuals publicly available for both an outgoing and a new incoming Council. This lack of transparency led to numerous FY25 budget season surprises.

Nor did the Historic Council care to ask for YTD fund balance trend history. Obtaining both historic fund balance trend history and actuals to date establishes a solid budgetary foundation. And nor did the Historic Council care to ask managed agreement non-profits for their current actual financials regarding the City’s most valued public assets. Managed agreement non-profits include Memphis River Park Partnerships (MRPP), Tennis Memphis, Botanic Gardens, Brooks, Memphis Museums Inc. (MOSH) and Zoo.

To make matters worse, the Paul Young Administration refused to answer numerous budget centric public information requests. These unanswered requests have been compiled in the Taxpayer Justice Institute’s non-transparent database (TJI). So does the Historic Council or Young Administration care? We will soon find out.

Finding Out If the Historic Council Cares

Fresh off a budget riddled with multimillion-dollar surprises, will the Historic Council care to implement what previous City Councils have failed to implement in the past? Does the Historic Council care about public transparency and oversight? Again, FY26 budget season really begins on July 1, 2024, and not May 1, 2025.

Below are suggested Council caring reform measures to kick off a new budget season, this July 1, that build a strong community budgetary foundation:

  1. For monthly Council review, formally requesting from the Young Administration through resolution, monthly City actual YTD financials against budget, with historic fund balance trend history.
  2. Requesting through resolution that managed agreement non-profits submit current monthly YTD financials, while sunshining and opening managed agreement board meetings to the public and answering public information requests. Informed Council public oversight of managed agreements is impossible without the former.
  3. PILOT reform. Excessive corporate PILOTs have weighed on public revenue for years. PILOT reform is in order and well past due. An authoritative local study on PILOTs has been published by the Shelby County Assessors that establishes the need for PILOT reform (Shelby County Assessor).

Whether one sits on the political right or left, a solid budgetary foundation is fundamentally required to inform a community centric budget debate. During this most recent budget season, those from the right and left expressed concern over the lack of a solid budgetary foundation to include Councilors Spinosa, Green and Sutton.

Hopefully, if “The Boyz” refuse to lead, maybe Spinosa, Green and Sutton will lead in supporting public transparency and oversight in support of establishing a strong budgetary foundation. If not them, let’s hope other members of the Historic Council step forward…

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Learn more about Joe B Kent

Joe B Kent

Career and Workforce Development Consultant

Joe B Kent

Career and Workforce Development Consultant