Ferguson Vote Throws DOJ Reforms Into Doubt

The city may have to cut seven police positions after voters rejected a property tax increase.

ST. LOUIS -- A vote on taxes in Ferguson, Missouri, raises doubts that the city can meet its agreement with the Department of Justice to reform its police department and court system.

Voters approved a sales tax increase during a municipal election on Tuesday, but a vote on raising property tax fell short of the two-thirds majority required to pass in the city, which has a deficit of $2.9 million.

Mayor James Knowles told The Huffington Post last week that the city needed the two tax increases to comply with DOJ requirements following the department's report into the August 2014 death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. The feds found that the city’s actions discriminated against Ferguson’s black residents and that the municipal court was focused solely on revenue, rather than justice.

Ferguson City Council voted in March for a consent agreement with the federal government aimed at eliminating unconstitutional policing practices, but the initiatives could cost $1 million in the first year. Now that the proposed property tax increase has failed, the city may have to cut seven positions from the police force to cover costs, according to one estimate.

However, Ferguson City manager De’Carlon Seewood said in a statement on Wednesday that while there may be some reduction in services, the council does not believe there will be “any major effects” on the consent decree.

A shortage of paper ballots at dozens of polling places throughout St. Louis County, did not affect Ferguson polling stations. However, the voter turnout was much lower than last year’s record numbers, when nearly 4,000 residents voted in all three of the city’s wards.

Less than 3,000 voters participated this year, as Ferguson resident Linda Lipka was elected as the Ward 1 council member with just 875 votes.

The 35-year-old said that she is determined to improve the situation for Ferguson's more than 21,000 residents -- nearly 70 percent of whom are African-American.

“This is a community that really needs the healing," Lipka told HuffPost. "This is a community where we’ve all been saying we want things to change, but now it’s time to put the work in. So that’s why I put my name on the ballot to do.”

Lipka is one of four women elected to the council's six-member board, which came under scrutiny for not having enough African-American representation. Ferguson increased its number of black council members from one to three last year. That total remained unchanged after Tuesday's vote.

This story has been updated to include comment from Ferguson City Manager De’Carlon Seewood.

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