Columbia city council votes down police tax proposal--for now

Columbia voters will not see a proposed tax increase to pay for more police officers on this Novemberâ??s ballot after that cityâ??s council voted the idea down in a grueling late-night session.

Mayor Bob McDavid first proposed increasing the cityâ??s property tax by 20 cents per $100 assessed valuation at a press conference on Aug. 5 but backed away from the proposal in the weeks that followed. At Monday nightâ??s meeting, during consideration of a measure to put the proposal on this Novemberâ??s ballot, McDavid said he felt it was â??overly simplistic for me to throw [the proposal] out thereâ?? and urged the council to vote the idea down. The body did so unanimously.

But Monday nightâ??s vote did not signal the ideaâ??s demise entirely. Several council members expressed interest in a hybrid approach combining budget changes with a smaller tax increase. Karl Skala said he doubted the city could pass a sales tax aimed at hiring more police officers and suggested trying to find enough money to hire 15 or 20 officers rather than the 35 the tax would pay for.

During the proposalâ??s hearing, Dale Roberts, the executive director of the Columbia Police Officersâ?? Association, told the council that at 6 p.m. Monday, the Columbia Police Department was at â??status zero,â?? meaning all officers were responding to calls, and there were 16 calls waiting. Prior to the meeting, Roberts told KRCG his association had not taken a position one way or the other on the tax idea, something he reiterated to the council later that night. He said the city could pay for the officers through reducing police overtime and redirecting some of the revenue from the 911 sales tax. Roberts said he did not endorse any one particular idea as long as the city finds some way to pay for more police officers. After the meeting, Roberts told reporters he felt the council had acted wisely under the circumstances because he doubted voters would have approved a tax increase of that magnitude.