Failure of Ferguson Tax Hike Won’t Affect Deal

     FERGUSON, Mo. (CN) – City leaders on Wednesday said the failure to pass a property tax by voters will not affect Ferguson’s ability to live up to the terms of a consent decree with the Justice Department.
     City voters overwhelmingly passed a half-cent economic sales tax increase by nearly 70 percent, but another measure that would have raised property taxes failed to get the needed two-thirds majority.
     The property tax, known as Proposition P, would have raised rates by 40 cents per $100 in assessed value. It would have averaged out to a $76 annual increase for each Ferguson property owner. It only garnered 56.8 percent approval.
     Leading up to Tuesday’s municipal election, Ferguson leaders urged the passage of both tax increases saying both were needed to allow the city to afford the consent decree agreed to in March with the DOJ. But city leaders said Ferguson will still be able to afford it with just one of the taxes approved.
     “Due to Proposition P not passing, we are going to take a look our budget very closely,” Ferguson City Manager De’Carlon Seewood said in a statement. “There may be some reduction in services but we do not believe there will be any major effects to the Consent Decree agreement, or our Community policing model. Overall, we are pleased with the momentum of voter turnout and their commitment to the community.”
     The approved sales tax, known as Proposition E, is expected to generate $1.225 million in revenue a year, of which $800,000 will go into the general fund and $425,000 will go towards capital improvements.
     Ferguson is facing a $2.8 million budget deficit following the fallout of the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown and the civil unrest that followed.
     Brown, an unarmed black man, was shot by then Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who is white. The incident sparked a national debate on racism and excessive force by police officers.
     The DOJ responded to the shooting by launching two investigations – one into Ferguson’s law enforcement practices and another into Wilson’s actions.
     While the DOJ declined to press charges against Wilson, it released a scathing report in March 2015 claiming the Ferguson Police Department systematically stopped black people and that the city used its municipal court as a revenue generator.
     Ferguson and the DOJ entered a consent decree, avoiding litigation, last month. The decree includes overhauls to the city’s police department and municipal court. It is expected to cost Ferguson as much as $1.5 million in the first year, as much as $880,000 in the second year and as much as $750,000 in the third year.
     “We knew going into this election, that it would be challenging to pass both Propositions,” Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III said in a statement. “But, for our community to pass Proposition E with nearly 70% voter approval says our community is looking forward to moving forward. We still have a long road ahead of us, and we know the Council will have to make some tough decisions over the next few months when it comes to our budget. But we are a resilient community and we will continue to move forward.”

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