Event reminder: Wednesday, June 1, 7:00 pm

The Bluff City Canoe Club has invited Friends for Our Riverfront to present a
program on the future of the riverfront, Wednesday, June 1, at the Main Library (3030 Poplar)at 7:00 p.m.

We hope you will come learn the details about the RDC/City plan to develop the Riverbluff and dam up the harbor. We will discuss the effects of this massive $292 million plan to create a second downtown; better alternatives for our City; and what you can do to help. Come and bring a friend.

We've also just put some information on the FfOR web site about the City budget that you may want to read. The budget will be presented to the full City Council on June 7.

[Click here to read more...]

Chumney position on capital projects

This recent press release from Carol Chumney's office makes a couple of very important points about the Capital Improvements Program (CIP) budget:
  • First, that the CIP budget has gotten out of control, enough so to impact the Memphis credit rating.
  • Second, that the City is making investments in projects that will be hard to stop later and will end up costing 5 times what they appear.
A good example is the Beale Street Landing. We can't afford this project right now, but the Council (contrary to appearances) is actually letting the RDC plow right ahead, using "reprogrammed" dollars. Next year, who will have the political guts to stop it after we've already invested $12 million?


Carol Chumney at 486-6891(cell) or 576-6786 (office)

Councilwoman Carol Chumney says that inaction by the Council this year may impact substantially on whether some neighborhoods get improvements needed over the next five years. On Wednesday, May 18, the Council’s CIP budget Committee will conclude its work on the city’s capital improvements budget. In the Council CIP budget committee last week, Chumney moved to delete the Beale Street Landing and the 911 Operations Facility projects entirely, which have a total price tag for the city of 18.9 million dollars and 22 million dollars respectively. Both motions failed for lack of a second. She also voted against the MATA regional light rail project which will ultimately cost the city taxpayers over 70 million dollars.

While some of the Council did vote to cut the 261 million of FY2006 new capital projects proposed to 150 million, Chumney states that more need to be cut due to the additional 225 million in “reprogrammed” projects [projects approved, but not begun in the last fiscal year] which are carried over into FY 2006. “If the Council proceeds with some of the big-ticket capital improvement projects, then many of the public works projects deferred this year, may be delayed again in future years in order to comply with the city’s debt policy for those fiscal years”, according to Chumney.

In January, Councilwoman Chumney first brought to the public’s attention the Fitch Ratings report [issued Oct. 18, 2004] downgrading Memphis’ bond rating from AA to AA- . This report noted that “The city’s direct and overlapping tax-supported debt levels have risen in recent years to a level Fitch considers above average.” (pg. 2). It further states, “Fitch’s analysis indicates that, if the fiscal years 2005-2009 CIP were carried out as stated, not all debt limits [in the city’s debt management policy] would be met.” (pg. 3). The downgrade by Fitch was based, in part, on the fact that “rising city debt service and the possible need to appropriate funds for sports authority debt service will further strain resources.” (pg. 4).

In February, the Mayor announced lay-offs and budget cuts and asked for ideas from the Council. Chumney’s letter dated February 25, 2005, recommended, among other things, that capital spending projects be cut for the upcoming fiscal year. Yet, the administration in April proposed a Capital Improvement Budget for FY 2006 that has 225 million in “reprogrammed” projects and 261 million in new projects for FY 2006. This totals 486 million in projects, well beyond the city’s debt policy target of 150 million per year.

Chumney notes that the Mayor’s Beale Street Landing proposal has 12 million in reprogrammed bond dollars for reauthorization in FY2006 because the Riverfront Development Corp. did not use the funds last year. While the Council has delayed the additional 6 million proposed in new capital dollars to FY 2007, it did not delay the use of the 12 million reprogrammed dollars. Chumney believes that once this money is spent, it will be hard for the Council to then later justify stopping the project in the middle.

Likewise, MATA requests 2.9 million in city reprogrammed bond dollars for the light rail plan between downtown and the airport, but no new capital dollars for FY 2006. If the reprogrammed amount is reauthorized this year, then the public will chip in 70 million dollars over the next five years. Chumney says that “the failure of the Council to act now on these two projects alone, will ultimately result in over 88 million dollars in capital expenditures that will not be available for public works and other neighborhood improvements over the next five years”.

The proposed 911 Operations Facility, while paid in part by fees, will still leave the city paying for the furnitures, fixtures and technology for a 22 million dollar price tag. This is in addition to a 4 million dollar new Emergency Management Operations Center in the budget for FY 2007. While Chumney supports building the EMA Center, she questions whether the city really needs both facilities, and at this cost?

Councilwoman Chumney points out that these new projects are being approved, while the ultimate fate of the Pyramid and Mud Island are still uncertain. She further points to the needed future expenditures for basic maintenance of the Cook Convention Center, upgrades for the Liberty Bowl, and to keep the hippo exhibit at the Memphis Zoo. And, it has yet to be determined how the fairgrounds property will be reused. Chumney says that “once again, the city is investing huge sums of money in new projects, while neglecting and abandoning facilities already built. Our schools are falling apart, our neighborhoods are neglected, but there is money to build several big new projects. And, we still don’t know if the repayment of the Fed Ex Forum bonds will need city support in upcoming years, as Fitch indicates”.

In short, Councilwoman Chumney states that simply cutting the proposed new capital projects for FY 2006 without regard to the reprogrammed projects, or applying the debt policy to each of the next five fiscal years will not fully address the concerns identified in Fitch’s bond rating report. Chumney “calls upon the Council, in the absence of leadership from the administration, to take action now to cut both reprogrammed and new capital projects to amounts within the city’s debt policy level. Once the capital budget is under control, in future years the Council can revisit the citizen’s ability to fund light rail, the riverfront plans, and the expensive 911 center. We must prioritize now, or there will be only limited choices in the future”.

[Click here to read more...]

Budget 101

With all the talk about the City budget and the City’s need for a tax increase, all of us could probably use a Budget 101 crash course. Here’s a stab at it - some information about how the City budget works and how much money the RDC is requesting.

How it Works

First of all, you need to understand there are two main City budgets: an operating budget and a CIP budget.

The operating budget pays to keep things running and for immediate needs. It pays the salaries for City employees (firemen, policemen, etc) and covers everyday operations like garbage pick-up and park maintenance. The amounts in this budget are paid directly from tax revenues. It’s sort of like paying for things with cash or out of your checking account.

The second budget is the CIP; CIP stands for Capital Improvements Program. It covers long-term projects and pays for the design and construction of big projects like police stations, libraries, boat landings, and “landbridges.” It works sort of like a mortgage on your house. To pay for projects in the CIP, the City borrows money. It looks for federal and state money to cover some of the costs, but most of the money is raised by issuing bonds, which taxes must pay off. Until the full amount is paid off, what’s called debt service (interest on the borrowed money plus part of the principal) winds up in each year’s operating budget, like the monthly payment on your house mortgage.

Each agency, including the RDC, looks at its goals and the expense of meeting those goals. The expenses are then put together by the City Administration in the City’s budgets. A balanced budget, where income pays expenses is what you want, but that’s not what we have this year, or, as a matter of fact, not what we have had for the last couple of years. Rather than cut expenses or raise taxes, the City has been balancing the budget by spending money it had in a “rainy day fund.” Now, that reserve fund has run out of money; so, this year, in order to pay for all the expenses in the operating budget and to fund projects in the CIP budget, the Administration is asking for more money - a tax increase. The Administration submitted its budget to the City Council. The Council’s Budget Committee has been reviewing each agency’s request and will come up with a modified budget to send to the full City Council for approval. The next step - we pay the bills.

Another Budget 101 fact: When the budget says FY2006 that means for the year from July 2005 to July 2006.

RDC Requests in the Operating Budget

The RDC has requested $2,484,830 in the FY2006 Operating Budget to run the riverfront parks.

The City's operating budget proposals, department by department, can be found in this very large (1.4 megabyte) PDF document: http://www.memphistn.gov/pdf_forms/genFundExp2006.pdf
Go to page 287 to find that line item related to the RDC.

On May 5, the City Council’s Budget Committee met to consider the RDC's request. Although Benny Lendermon, Rick Masson, John Conroy, and Jay Fuller were there representing the RDC, they were empty-handed. They had no written figures to submit; the RDC Board had not approved a budget, so the Council Committee got no details. The Committee voted approval and asked that information be sent when it became available.

At the Committee hearing, it was clarified that the RDC is in the 5th year of a 5 year contract with the City to manage riverfront parks, that the Mayor signs and negotiates the contract with the RDC, and that the Council allocates the money.

In response to questions, the RDC comptroller said that the RDC now has a staff of 38 people, 6 of whom are administrative, and that the total expenditure for parks is $3.5million. The RDC said that they have been able to manage the parks without cost increases and that private donations from the RDC Board and the Plough and Hyde Foundations have helped with special projects. The RDC explained that they contract out grass cutting, but do horticulture work with their own staff. The 2006 budget requests $1.8 million to pay park employees and $558,102 for the administrative staff.

In a later session to consider the Convention Center budget request, it was mentioned that the Mayor, in an effort to better utilize equipment and manpower, had asked the group now managing the Convention Center for a proposal to manage the Mud Island River Park, Liberty Bowl, and Convention Center. Councilwoman Chumney and others were interested in seeing this proposal.

RDC Requests in the CIP Budget

But 1st, a few more Budget 101 facts -

Because the projects in this budget stretch out over many years, the CIP includes information by year for five years. It also includes information about money that has been set aside previously for each recipient but has not been spent yet; it’s called reprogram money.

When projects appear in the CIP, the source of the money (whether it’s coming from City bonds, federal grants, or state grants) and the purpose of the spending (on engineering and architecture or on actual construction) is specified.

Right now the RDC has $23 million dollars in reprogram money in the CIP budget waiting to be spent. City General Obligation Bonds, which are backed by City property taxes, finance $13.1 million of this. Over the next 5 years, the RDC is asking for an additional $29.9 million, $26.4 million of which, if approved, will also be funded by City bonds. That’s a request for $39.5 million in City bonds backed by City property taxes for the RDC.

The CIP breaks Agency amounts down into specific project requests. For the RDC, that’s Beale Street Landing, Riverfront Park Improvements, Cobblestone Landing, and Riverfront Planning.

Beale Street Landing has $21.4 million in reprogram money in the CIP budget of which $12.7 million is from City bonds. They have requested an additional $6.2 million from the City in 2006. Most of the design has been completed, so reprogram and future financing goes for actual construction.

At the Council Budget hearing, the committee voted to shift the request for $6.2 million from budget year 2006 to 2007. The RDC says this will not interfere with their plans to begin construction of Beale Street Landing this July. In light of the budget crisis, Councilwoman Chumney made a motion to remove all City funding for Beale Street Landing ($18.9 million) from the CIP, but there was no second for her motion. The RDC expects Beale Street Landing to be finished in 2007. The total amount in the CIP for this project through 2010 is $28.6 million.

The Riverfront Park Improvement Project has $300,000 in reprogram money from City bonds and is requesting an additional $150,000 in 2006. This money is going to Tom Lee Park improvements, including the new Tom Lee Memorial. The total amount in the CIP for this project through 2010 is $15.3 million. This money will come entirely from City bonds.

The Cobblestone Landing Project has $1 million in reprogram money from the federal government. The RDC is requesting an additional $100,000 from City bonds and $1.5 million from federal grants in 2006. Most of this is for construction improvements to the cobblestone area. The total amount in the CIP through 2010 for this project is $6.7 million.

The Riverfront Project currently has $234,000 in reprogram money (half from City bonds and half from federal grants) in the CIP budget to pay for architecture and engineering expenses involved in planning for, among other things, the development of the Promenade, Landbridge, and Wolf River Harbor. The RDC is requesting an additional $400,000 in 2006 (half from the federal grants and half from City bonds. The total amount in the CIP through 2010 for this project is $2.2 million.

So Where Do We Stand?

Except for having $6.2 million, which will pay for part of the construction of Beale Street Landing, shifted from 2006 to 2007 in the CIP budget, the RDC's operating and CIP budgets left the Council Budget Committee without changes. Their request for $41.9 million from the City over the next 5 years, roughly $16.5 million of which they will receive between July 2005 and July 2006, is headed to the full Council for a vote. And to think we can't cut the grass, pick-up dead animals, are laying off employees, and have cut summer jobs for kids.

For more details on the Riverfront Development portion of the CIP budget, download this PDF document(about 191 KB): http://www.memphistn.gov/pdf_forms/riverDev2006.pdf.

If you want to write City Council members about the budget, you will find their addresses at this link.
Just click on their individual pictures to get their mailing addresses.

[Click here to read more...]

See June West on Tennessee Lookout

FfOR Board member June West is the guest of Councilwoman Carol Chumney on the Library Channel’s (Channel 18) half-hour talk show Tennessee Lookout which will run throughout May.

June is the executive director of the non-profit preservation group Memphis Heritage, and her discussion with Councilwoman Chumney covers many issues and projects that MHI has been involved with including concerns about the current plan to develop the riverfront.

The interview, which is filled with great visuals, will run all this month, so there are several chances to catch June and Carol’s discussion.

Mondays at 12:00 noon, 11:00 pm
Tuesday at 8:00 am, 4:30 pm
Wednesdays at 1:30 pm, 8:30pm
Thursday at 5:30 am
Fridays at 6:00 pm
Sundays at 3:00 am, 6:00 am

TV18's web page and complete chedule is here: http://www.memphislibrary.org/tlc18/

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Dickinson Plays at Stax to Honor Dylan, Open Photo Exhibit

Jim Dickinson [click for bio], without whom there would be no “Save Our Riverfront” CD, has recorded with and produced records for many of rock ’n roll’s legends including Bob Dylan. So it is only logical that when the photography exhibit, "Bob Dylan: The Photographs of Daniel Kramer, 1964-1965," opens on May 13 at Stax Museum of Soul Music, it is Dickinson who will be the featured performer.

Dickinson and Dylan are both known for their honesty and willingness to take a stand for their principles. As Tim Sampson, spokesman for Soulsville, said in an Apr. 21, 2005 “Commercial Appeal” article, “much of Dylan’s most important music was and is protest music about civil and human rights." There may be no finer example of this than Dickinson’s recording of “Power to the People” which is the last take on “Save Our Riverfront.” The song makes you want to stand up, shake your fist, and shout. Dickinson and the other musicians who’ve donated their time, talent and music for “Save Our Riverfront” have done just that in an effort to protect the right of all of us to our park on the Bluff.

The reception runs from 7 to 10 p.m. with barbecue from Jim Neely’s Interstate Barbecue and complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks. Admission is free for museum members, $10 for nonmembers. It sounds like the place Friends for Our Riverfront may want to be that night.

The exhibit of 60 images by award winning New York photographer and film director Kramer will be at the museum, 926 E. McLemore, May 13 through July 26 to coincide with Dylan’s July 1 concert with Willie Nelson at AutoZone Park.

The exhibit marks the 40th anniversary of Dylan’s 1965 albums Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited. It includes a mix of well-known and unpublished images of Dylan.

[Click here to read more...]


“Improve” is a word everyone uses when they talk about the Public Promenade, but it depends on who’s talking what the word means.

To Friends for Our Riverfront “improve” links with restoring, renovating, refurbishing, cleaning-up, revitalizing our riverfront park space for the public to use and enjoy. We’re thrilled to find an example right here in Memphis to illustrate how we can do it and what it can mean to the city.

As FfOR defines it, the Center City Commission has “improved” Court Square. On May 5, the Center City Commission officially reopened Court Square Park, after a renovation that CCC president Jeff Sanford described as “returning Court Square to the simple grandeur of the turn of the last century.” An article in the Commercial Appeal said that already Court Square is attracting new attention with Wednesday night concerts and lunchtime crowds feeding the pigeons and clicking in to new wireless internet connections.

Like the Public Promenade and three other downtown squares, Court Square was one of four public parks dedicated when Memphis was laid out in 1819. According to the newspaper article, Cy Paumier, a Washington, D.C. consultant and leading expert in revitalizing urban cores, noted that the square’s details had become “tired” and suggested the park be “simplified” and “returned to beautiful grass and trees.” In his opinion we’ll see results just like in Savannah, Ga., “where everyone perked up and began renovating buildings around the squares” after they were renovated.

Sound familiar? FfOR’s mission is to promote revitalization of the Memphis Riverfront as green space for public enjoyment, preserving its historic, natural, and aesthetic character.

The Court Square renovation cost $640,000, a far cry from the RDC's $50-100 million plan for the Public Promenade. If you listen carefully, to the RDC “improve” means turning the Riverbluff park over to private developers for condos, offices, and shops. In exchange the developers are supposed to build us a sidewalk along the edge. In our definition that’s not improvement, it’s exploitation.

For more on what Memphis can do with our beautiful Riverbluff and harbor, see the web sections under See the Light in the sidebar.

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