Councilman proposes taking money from MPD & MFD to help families pay for utilities

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Memphis City Council member is proposing to take money from the Memphis Police Department and the Memphis Fire Department to help families pay for their utilities.

District 3 Council Representative Martavius Jones is proposing to take $5.7 million of the budget for MPD and MFD to help fund the Memphis Zoo, and use CARES Act money that would’ve gone into the zoo to help families.

Jones said it’s a small price to pay for those who could lose even more in the pandemic.

“When you look at the police and fire budget, those two budgets combined make up about $473 million. When you talk about finding money available to do that, you largely look at your largest expense,” said Jones.

Mike Williams with Memphis Police Association said right now is not the time to cut the police and fire budgets.

“If you really look at the police budget it has been defunded all along, it’s like the go-to bank,” said Williams.

Williams said he’s very concerned about the crime rate especially since we are at a pace that could break the 2016 homicide record.

“I don’t think we can continue to do this because we already exceeded 200 homicides in this city,” said Williams.

Activist Theryn Bond said this proposal is what defunding the police is all about.

“We’ve been looking at defunding the police department and putting it into service and community things that are actually helping people,” said Bond.

The Zoo said they’ve lost $11 million due to the pandemic. The Chief Marketing Officer for the zoo, Nick Harmeier, said the $5.7 million would help to keep the zoo operating, house the animals and pay for COVID-19 policy changes. The zoo is now operating at 50% capacity. 96% of revenue comes from ticket sales and concession.

Jones said that money is guaranteed for the zoo, but re-allocating funds would help to take care of families that are still affected by storm outages and the end of MLGW’s moratorium.

“You have people in Memphis who are out here hurting and have been negatively or more affected. If we’re looking at household expenses, it’s like saying I have 100 dollars, I’m only talking about $1.20 cents to reallocate to something that’ll help. In the grand scheme of things, I don’t it’s that big of an ask to help people,” said Jones.

If the proposal passes, Jones said the money would be handled through the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association.

The proposal will be up for discussion by the council Tuesday morning.