MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - The days of the free lunch might soon be over for Memphis City Council members. Budget talks begin April 28, and some say it's time to quit having taxpayers pay for their chow. It's just one of many cuts being talked about as council members try to figure out a way to avoid a 47 cent property tax increase proposed by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton.
City council members, who make more than $29,000 a year for a part time job, eat for free. That's because taxpayers pick up the tab.
This year, however, in a city where the official slogan ought to be "Welcome to Memphis, got any spare change?" the chow train might be heading toward the end of the line.
"I think the city council budget, like all budgets, needs to be cut," said Councilman Jim Strickland. "I mean we're talking about a huge tax increase that Mayor Wharton has proposed; we need to cut out all the travel, we need to cut out the food, we need to cut out the necessary positions."
But Strickland says there's no way they'll balance the budget by doing away with free lunches. He says if people have to pay more for things, it's time council members pay for lunch. After all, their part time job pays more than a lot of full time jobs.
Strickland doesn't think the mayor should even try to expect a tax increase either.
"Raising taxes is the last thing we need to do as Memphians," he said. "We're already pushing people out of this city. We don't need to push them any harder."
Budget hearings with the Memphis City Council begin with the knowledge the city is more than $40 million in the red. By law, budgets must be balanced, so you make cuts, or you raise taxes.
The first departments getting the once over by the budget committee members are police and fire.
Strickland said, "Well I don't think anyone's proposing cuts in the number of police officers. I don't think anybody is proposing that. So I don't think that's going to be a problem," adding the same goes for the fire department.
The mayor has promised he won't cut city workers' salaries or make cuts to police and fire. That's why he is asking for a tax increase.
Strickland feels the mayor needs to get back to work. "I don't know for sure, but I can't imagine anyone supports that big a tax increase. In fact, I think Mayor Wharton ought to scrap that whole budget and present a new one that doesn't call for a tax increase."