By Stephen Deere
If pre-election scenarios about two proposed tax increases were accurate, the city will need to eliminate more than 13 percent of its workforce, including the positions of seven police officers.
While voters approved a half-cent sales tax increase on Tuesday, they rejected a city plan to increase property taxes.
Both measures were intended to offset a $2.9 million budget deficit.
Even if both tax increases had passed, the city still planned to cut employees' pay by 3 percent, reduce the number of workers by 5 percent and increase the amount that employees pay for health benefits by 15 percent.
The city will receive about $1.2 million in new revenue from the sales tax increase.
City officials also predicted that Ferguson would not be able to abide by the terms of an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to reform its police department and municipal court, if the measures failed.
But a City Council with two new faces will have to grapple with that problem.
In Ward 1, Linda Lipka, a professional DJ, held off a challenge from write-in candidate Pat Cowan.
Heather Robinett, a manager for AT&T defeated two candidates in the race for the Ward 2 seat: Annette Jenkins and Bob Hudgins, an activist, who ran unsuccessfully last year.
Councilman Keith Kallstrom also fended off a challenge from a write-in candidate, Francesca Griffin, a protester.
Last April, during the first municipal election since the demonstrations sparked by Michael Brown's death, voter turnout nearly tripled to 30 percent.
That trend continued Tuesday as 25 percent of the city's 11,920 registered voters went to the polls. Before Brown's death, 11 percent was a typical turnout for a municipal election.
In the months leading up to the election, city officials warned residents that Ferguson would have to reduce or eliminate numerous services if the tax measures failed.
A memo from City Manager De'Carlon Seewood listed dozens of services that would be affected. The municipal jail would close. So would a firehouse. The police department would not respond to certain calls. Emergency responses would be delayed by as much as 8 minutes.
It was unclear how many of those predictions would hold true if one tax increase passed, but not the other.
"There's going to be some belt-tightening," Councilman Wesley Bell said Tuesday night. "But with all that we have gone through as a community, I fully expect that we will find a way to get through this hurdle."
Seewood's memo also warns that the city would struggle to adhere to the agreement with the Justice Department, filed in federal court last month.
The agreement addresses patterns of constitutional violations by the city's police department and municipal court uncovered by a federal investigation last year.
The investigation found that Ferguson police routinely used unnecessary force and conducted searches without probable cause. It claimed that the court had focused on generating revenue for the city through fines and fees rather than administering justice. The alleged violations disproportionately affected African-Americans, the Justice Department said.
Seewood's memo notes that the community policing program described in the agreement, called a consent decree, requires a minimum of 52 officers.
With only the sales tax increase passing, Seewood's memo projects that seven of the department's 67 positions would be eliminated. It is not clear from the memo how many are civilians and how many are officers.
Bell said it was too early to identify specific cuts and how they might affect the consent decree.
"I don't want to be premature," he said. "That's a dialogue we will have with the council, with city staff and with our residents."
The tax increases faced opposition from residents who believed that city leaders had mismanaged Ferguson's resources and offered misleading estimates about the cost of the consent decree.
They pointed to two trials in February. The city spent thousands of dollars prosecuting two protesters for ordinance violations, the lowest level of criminal offenses. One of them ended in an acquittal, the other in a mistrial.
That latter case involved Griffin, the write-in candidate in Ward 3. She was tried for allegedly refusing an officer's order to drop her keys during a protest. She said she never heard him.
After a jury could not reach a verdict, the judged declared a mistrial. The city has refiled the charges against Griffin.
As she walked away from her polling place Tuesday, Arnetta Peebles, a 30-year Ferguson resident, said she had grown tired of the city viewing residents as obstacles.
But she opposed the tax increases simply because she could not afford them.
"We struggle as it is," she said. "I ain't got the money."
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