August 19, 2004

What if?

by Chris Feeney

What if we all took our turn serving the community? I guess I shouldnt complain, as we have hundreds and hundreds of volunteers that benefit our lives on a daily basis. But Im not talking about joining Rotary or walking in the Relay for Life. Im referring to a different type of public service.

There are more than 2,000 people that reside in the city limits of Memphis. But when it comes to making the decisions for our town, that responsibility lies in the hands of just five individuals. While these folks technically are not volunteers (the aldermen are paid a salary of $2,000 per year and the mayor makes $4,000) they might as well be, because you have to be a charitable soul to take on the position for that little reimbursement.

We have been blessed to have the city council representatives that have served us. But it appears to me, it is just a matter of time until there is a blank spot on the ballot because no one wants the job.

It was so refreshing in August when we went to the polls for the county election to have so many choices on the ballot. Wouldnt it be nice if we had the same options at the city level? This is not an attack on our current representatives, as I think we have a fine city council. But eventually they too will step down and it will be time for the next volunteer to step up.

Wouldnt it make sense to pay our city leadership a little better? These people are responsible for a roughly $2 million city budget each year. They have to make tough decisions on how to spend this money. Being a council member goes well beyond the official meeting once a month. If the aldermen had a quarter for every time someone stopped them at the grocery store to discuss city business, they would go well beyond the $2,000 salary level.

I dont think this needs to be a full-time salaried position, but I do believe in paying fair value for work delivered. I dont see any problem raising the salary for council members to say $4,000 or even $5,000 a year. Sure it is easy to toss around the taxpayers money, but then again, thats just a drop in the bucket from the checkbook these individuals already control.

Who knows, maybe the pay hike wouldnt insure more candidates for the positions, but at least we would be paying these folks more equitably for the service they provide.

While Im pretending to be the all-knowing I might as well toss out another of my ideas for improving local government. Im no penny-pincher by any means, but I think it would make a lot of sense (and cents) if the county and city considered a consolidation of its law enforcement offices.

Together the Memphis Police Department and the Scotland County Sheriffs Department are budgeted for more than $500,000. I for one believe that law enforcement is money well spent and Im not suggesting cutting the budget, simply making better use of it.

I believe there is enough duplication of services here that if combined, the two governing bodies could save some revenue for use elsewhere.

If nothing else, combining the two offices would eliminate rent for the police department as well as cost of office machinery such as phones, faxes, computers and copiers, which are duplicated by maintaining two offices.

Im not sure how a consolidation would impact employees. Manpower can prove troublesome for both agencies, as police officers or deputies often go to other higher-paying job openings, as there is a shortage of qualified applicants.

Currently we are served by a sheriff and three deputies in the county, and a marshal and three police officers in the city. Combined that would be eight law officers. If any of these positions were eliminated, it would probably be more beneficial to use the cost savings to raise the salary levels for the remaining positions so we can insure the ability to recruit quality applicants and retain the best law enforcement possible.

Like Ive said before, its nice to write editorials, as you can spout out ideas without having to do all the work. I guess if I wanted to put my money where my mouth is I could run for city council, vote myself a pay raise and begin working with the county commission on a law enforcement plan. I think Ill stick to writing.

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