MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - We met outside of a coffee shot. A C Wharton is a man who likes his coffee. He needs it. The Wharton workday is legendary - up before dawn, still on the job late into the night. He is working on what he wants for Memphis next year. Cutting the crime rate is a major issue. 'We are focusing on the criminals," he says. "We want to really focus in on people who steal guns and use them in crimes.
He wants to throw the book at them. It will probably be his main priority in 2013, but he has other plans as well, plans that might be sweet music to the soured ear drums of Memphis taxpayers.
"Now that we no longer have to give schools fifty six million dollars a year," the mayor says, "I'm seeing if there's a way we can give the citizens of the city of Memphis more tax relief. The council has done a great job. There have been three tax decreases in their terms in office. Folks seem to forget that."
It can be easy to forget. Memphis folks still pay the highest property taxes in Tennessee, even with the three tax decreases. It's been a rough few years for Memphis City Employees, and we're not just talking about them paying their property taxes. A few years ago during budget talks, Mayor Wharton decided to avoid layoffs by cutting city employee pay by just over four and a half percent. Well, if you're a city employee, you might want to sit down, grab some water, take a deep breath. Mayor Wharton says "I think they've paid their fair share in terms of trying to get the city out of the ditch when it comes to finances. I'm going to be looking to work with the council and the unions. We've got to get the process started."
Returning the money does come with a big BUT. To restore the four point six percent cut, the city is contemplating asking employees to pay more for their insurance benefits. The idea isn't going over well with the Memphis Police and Firefighters unions. Both groups have had public fights with Mayor Wharton over the years, and still don't get along well.
You can say this about A C Wharton: he is the eternal optimist, and he is, of course, optimistic about the upcoming negotiations. "We're not going to get to gridlock on it," he says. "We never have. We will just keep talking. We are talking now as a matter of fact."