Columbia City Council won't put police staffing tax hike on Nov. ballot

Agrees to make changes to red light camera ticketing

COLUMBIA, Mo. - The Columbia City Council agreed unanimously not to put a proposed police staffing property tax hike on the November ballot.

The tax lost its biggest supporter, Mayor Bob McDavid, last week. He originally proposed the 20-cent hike to hire 35 new officers in response to violent crime this summer. McDavid then backed down from it after comments made at a Columbia Police Officers' Association forum.

"I think we should pull this," McDavid told the council toward the end of a marathon meeting. "But I am committed to trying to get [more money for extra cops] done."

McDavid and the council agreed that any tax increase proposal needed to be better thought out and come as the result of public input. McDavid asked council and city staff to look into alternative tax options and come up with a plan to put a proposal on the April 2014 ballot.

Under the original proposal, the city's property tax could go up 3 percent or 20 cents for every $100 of value that goes toward the city of Columbia. That means a $150,000 home would cost $70 more per year in property taxes.

Other city leaders have been split on how to pay for increasing the number of officers in the city, but they all agreed on the need for more.

"I think [the Columbia Police Officers Association] is going to have a mixed reaction about this," CPOA executive director Dale Roberts told reporters after the vote.  "We need officers now, but we were really concerned about a ballot proposal that would fail and be interpreted as the city saying we don't want more officers and we don't want to see that happening."

City Manager Mike Matthes addressed concerns from citizens and council about how to pay for more officers, saying the city cannot simply move money around between departments.

"It is now time to begin to add staff to begin to catch up," Matthes said, promising that growing the police force is a budget priority over the next several years.

In a separate issue, the council voted to approve on a proposal to change how the city issues red light camera tickets.

The city says dropping a requirement for a clear photo of the driver could result in more than $100,000 in new tickets, but said safety was the reason for the change.

Assistant city manager Tony St. Romaine also indicated that the change would save the city money because the technology and cameras required were far less complex.

Only two council members voted against the change.

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