In Tuesday evening’s Council Meeting, Fran Griffin acted as Mayor pro tem in the absence of Mayor Ella Jones. The big highlights were: a review or ARPA funding coming to Ferguson (public input in using it will be sought), the police department turned over the investigation of the homicide Sunday morning at Northwinds Apartments because of possible ties to a potential serial killer, a public hearing on the 2021 property tax levy, Cosmos bar is creating problems, a brief history of troubles of FNIP (Ferguson Neighborhood Improvement Plan), and multiple interruptions made by resident and former Council candidate Erica Brooks in apparent attempt to argue with Council Members. (Maybe the city will find the mute button in time for the next meeting?)
City Manager Eric Osterberg provided the COVID report. The numbers have been kind of contradictory lately and the hope is that we are at a plateau. Ferguson has had about 240 cases within the past two weeks. The hope is that the numbers begin to go down and perhaps in-person meetings can begin again.
Osterberg provided his proposal for the ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) money to the council. The city will receive $4 million in two groups of funding, half in October 2021 and half in October 2022. There are three categories of eligible uses for this money:
- Pandemic Health Response (such as vaccine clinics, information campaigns, and health and safety supplies)
- Economic Impacts (internally for revenue recovery, or externally for business and nonprofit assistance)
- Addressing Disparities in Health Outcomes (such as increasing accessibility to health care)
The ARPA funding a one-time only source and cannot be used for recurring expenditures. It can be used for capital, and for program pilots, development, and design. Osterberg wants to engage public input and solicit ideas. He is seeking to hold two virtual meetings in October/November, two in-person meetings in November (dependent on COVID case rates at that time), as well as having a webpage with information, guidelines, and an online Idea Submission Box.
Council Member Toni Burrow asked if Police Chief Frank McCall was to present for the meeting and Osterberg responded that McCall had told him he had no report for the Community Policing Update. Burrow asked why FPD turned over the homicide which occurred Sunday morning to County and whether the department’s staffing levels were too low to allow them to oversee it. Osterberg responded that his understanding was that the homicide potentially linked to an existing county case of a possible serial killer. Burrow went on to express her concern about the very low number of officers on duty. Osterberg did state that staff were looking into alternative ways to provide public safety and address crime. For instance, looking at better lighting in some areas.
Alexis Miller presented the property tax levy hearing. Residential and commercial values are rising, with a 12% increase from fiscal 2020 in residential property taxes. And for anyone wishing to geek out, here are the charts and tables from the presentation.
Council Member Linda Lipka offered a report of work by the FSBD (Ferguson Special Business District). They are holding a Pumpkin Walk in the business district and are making plans for Small Business Saturday after Thanksgiving. They are also working to roll together Northern Lights with Ferguson Parks and Recreation’s Winterpalooza. FSBD will have a parade and tree lighting. Additionally, they are seeking guidance from the city in how to maintain accountability in fiscal reporting now that they no longer have TIF funds, and are also questioning changing to a fiscal year for reporting that coincides with their business licensing, or changing the license period to the city fiscal period.
Lipka also raised concerns about the potential need for more policing at the parking lot area for Cosmos. Complaints have included loud noise, drug paraphernalia, and open carrying of guns. The landlord has been trying to work with the tenants, but the problems have not been resolved.
Council Member Naquittia Noah asked about FNIP (Ferguson Neighborhood Improvement Program) and Lipka gave a brief account of its recent troubles. FNIP has not met because it lacks a quorum. Its listing in the current city manual is factually incorrect and needs to be reissued. This is a separate entity from the city and is not a part of the city budget or under city fiscal purview. FNIP lost its 501 status previously, but has had it restored. They did in fact begin the Property Restoration Program, but that was moved from them to Development and having lost its project, the group faltered. There is work towards getting FNIP back on track and fully appointed, but the pandemic has also added delays.
Finally, in the Miscellaneous comments, Council Member Toni Burrow addressed the public comments made at the beginning of the meeting by Erica Brooks. In her public comment, Brooks had started by recognizing that potholes near her house had been filled. However, she wanted the council to “wake” and “rise up” and resurface her neighborhood’s streets, fix collapsed sewer drains, and use the Property Rehabilitation Program in Plaza Heights. Burrow addressed the complaints in her comments by saying that she enjoys public comments, as well as hearing from residents and will readily answer phone calls. What she did not like was using the public comments to run a campaign. Burrow stated that “if you want to be a part of the solution, don’t be the problem.” Burrow asserted that although we have money problems, we have competent people on city staff assessing our needs, and we need to look to our experts when spending tax dollars. Burrow further pointed out that Plaza Heights has benefitted from the work and efforts of Earthdance, turning a blighted area into something beautiful. Burrow noted that many worked to keep the bus line, including all of the council. Erica Brooks interrupted at that point, and there was a brief period with her talking over Fran Griffin until Griffin was able to allow Burrow to return to her comments.
Linda Lipka also addressed Brooks’ comments, stating that she and the council were aware of infrastructure problems in Plaza Heights, as well as problems in other communities in all of the wards. Lipka insisted that Plaza Heights was in no way being “picked on” or singled out within the city. In fact, Lipka noted that the Ferguson Baptist Youth Group chose to spend their mission trip week on Dade, cleaning yards, removing rubbish, and even taking down trees. Lipka noted that this was a group that saw a need and stepped up. Brooks again interrupted the council’s time to speak and again was asked by Griffin to refrain from all comments.
The remaining council comments were able to proceed without interruption.