Ferguson official: Tax vote shouldn't affect police reform

AP News
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Posted: Apr 06, 2016 3:00 PM
Ferguson official: Tax vote shouldn't affect police reform

FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) — Failure by Ferguson voters to approve a property tax increase should have no "major effects" on the city's agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice or efforts to adopt community policing in the St. Louis suburb where Michael Brown was fatally shot by an officer, the city manager said Wednesday.

Ferguson voters on Tuesday approved a sales tax increase but rejected a property tax hike proposal. The taxes were meant to reduce a $2.9 million deficit and help fund changes mandated in a Justice Department agreement aimed at improving Ferguson's criminal justice system. Those changes will cost an estimated $2.3 million over three years.

In a statement Wednesday, City Manager De'Carlon Seewood said failure of the measure will force a close look at the city budget.

"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," Seewood said. "Overall, we are pleased with the momentum of voter turnout and their commitment to the community."

Immediately after the vote, Mayor James Knowles III had said the impact of the property tax hike failure was unclear.

Ferguson is already planning across-the-board pay cuts of 3 percent for all employees. City spokesman Jeff Small said no layoffs will be immediately necessary because 19 city jobs are already vacant through attrition, including 10 in the police force.

The sales tax is expected to generate more than $1.2 million annually, but about one-third of that goes to a capital improvements fund, not general revenue.

In addition to the deficit, Ferguson must, as part of the Justice Department agreement, hire a monitor; implement diversity training for police; purchase software and hire staff to analyze records on arrests, use of force and other police matters; and outfit all officers and jail workers with body cameras.

Brown, who was black and unarmed, was shot during a street confrontation with white officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, 2014. The shooting of the 18-year-old was a catalyst in the national Black Lives Matter movement. A grand jury and the Justice Department cleared Wilson in the shooting. Wilson resigned from the police force in November 2014.

The shooting led to a Justice Department investigation of Ferguson police and court practices. A critical report in March 2015 prompted the resignations of the city manager, police chief and municipal judge.

The City Council last month agreed to the settlement after first rejecting it a month earlier.