Ferguson voters to again consider tax increase
Voters in Ferguson will be asked in August for the third time this year to approve a tax increase as the St. Louis suburb continues to try and rebound from fallout of the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown.
The proposal on the Aug. 2 ballot would raise the city utility tax by 2 percent. Mayor James Knowles III said the tax increase would generate an estimated $700,000 annually. It’s among several proposals around the state facing local voters.
Ferguson voters in April approved a half-cent sales tax increase and narrowly defeated a property tax increase.
Brown, a black and unarmed 18-year-old, was fatally shot by white officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, 2014. A St. Louis County grand jury and the U.S. Department of Justice cleared Wilson of criminal wrongdoing. He resigned from the police force in November 2014.
The shooting led to months of unrest that included looting. Sales and property tax revenue in Ferguson dropped off sharply after the shooting, while legal fees rose drastically.
The city also took a financial hit due to court reforms. The shooting raised awareness about a court system that generated revenue largely on the backs of poor and minority residents. Knowles said reforms were implemented within weeks of the shooting.
In March, the city agreed to additional reforms as part of a settlement with the Justice Department. The settlement aimed at eliminating racial bias and profiling in Ferguson’s criminal justice system is expected to cost at least $2.3 million over the next three years.
Ferguson’s budget deficit reached nearly $3 million before the April sales tax increase was approved.
Here are some other key local issues from across the state on the Aug. 2 ballot:
—Voters in several Missouri communities will be asked whether their city should continue applying and collecting local sales tax for titling of motor vehicles, trailers, boats and outboard motors that were bought from a source other than a licensed Missouri dealer.
Sales tax was traditionally collected on titled vehicles based on the rate of tax at the location of the purchaser. But the Missouri Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that vehicles purchased out of state were subject only to a use tax, not sales tax. That put Missouri auto dealers at a competitive disadvantage with some out-of-state dealers, said Marybeth Bruns, an assistant to Republican House Speaker Pro Tem Denny Hoskins.
Legislation in 2013 re-established the local sales tax rate as the appropriate rate for taxing the purchase of motor vehicles, but it requires a local election for each taxing jurisdiction to validate the rate.
—In Columbia, voters will decide whether to raise the lodging tax from 4 percent of a hotel bill to 5 percent to help fund a new terminal for Columbia Regional Airport. The city wants to build a 75,700-square-foot terminal that would be about three times larger than the existing terminal. The project would cost up to $38 million.
The Columbia Hospitality Association, which represents several hotels, opposes the measure, calling it “an idea without a plan.”
—In the St. Louis suburb of Glendale, voters will consider approval of an $8 million bond issue and 0.25 percent sales tax increase. Half of the bond issue money would fund a new fire house, and half would provide for police and city facility improvements. The sales tax hike would help pay for fire department needs, including a new pumper. The bond issue requires four-sevenths approval, the sales tax a simple majority.