The first installment of Marc Perrusquia’s and my investigation into the mess that is Memphis’ city finances dropped today. Part of the work I did for this investigation was was build a database of city financial data spanning more than 40 years from the city’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports.
Check it out. If it drops behind the paywall, try the PNGs.
Our Financial Mess: How it happened, what it means
When Mayor A C Wharton steps to the podium Tuesday to deliver his $600-million-plus budget to the Memphis City Council, he faces the bruising financial legacy of the city’s decades old grow-or-die strategy of annexation, chasing middle-class taxpayers no matter their address.
Since 1960, Memphis more than doubled in land mass by leapfrogging fleeing residents, annexing dozens of times, the city now stretching 24 miles from the Mississippi River to the Fayette County line — making it larger than Boston, St. Louis, Atlanta and Washington, D. C. combined, according to U.S. Census figures.
Annexation: “You had a lot of people voting with their feet.”
Population loss: “We created disposable communities.”
Officially, Memphis lost 3,211 people between 2000-2010. But when other factors are considered, including the 38,910 residents the city gained through annexation during the period, Memphis’ outward migration becomes a much bigger concern. Researchers believe as many as 112,000 more people moved out than moved in during those 10 years. Census estimates reveal a recent uptick between 2011 and 2013, yet it would take decades of such gains to offset the toll.
This is hardly on the magnitude of Cleveland, which has lost more than half its population since 1950, or Detroit, which lost over a million residents in that time, but it has serious consequences for Memphis.