- Associated Press - Thursday, January 29, 2015

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. says fighting crime, reducing blight, improving the city’s finances and spurring economic development are priorities for his administration this year.

In his “State of the City” speech Thursday, Wharton said more than $776 million is being spent on new economic development projects in Memphis, with a predicted annual economic impact of more than $460 million.

He touted gains in job creation and reduced blight in neighborhoods, including demolition of abandoned or dilapidated properties and installation of cameras at sites where illegal dumping of trash is common. Blight and crime are persistent problems in Memphis, one of the poorest large cities in the country.

Wharton said police must work to cut the murder rate, which statistics show was 21.9 per 100,000 people in 2014. Police will add body cameras, increase the number of officers on patrols and build stronger relationships with the community in efforts to cut crime, he said.

“Our No. 1 priority never changes - safer communities,” he said.

Wharton, who is running for re-election this year, said work is being done to bolster the city’s finances. Memphis has a $550 million unfunded liability in its pension fund for city workers and $1.3 billion in non-pension retirement benefits such as health care premiums.

He said officials are creating a new division of city government aimed at increasing minority ownership of businesses.

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