A year after shooting, Ferguson faces financial toll

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A year after Ferguson, Missouri, was torn by unrest over a white policeman's fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, the town that became a symbol of racial inequality in America faces a significant financial toll.

Several businesses that were looted or vandalized during riots in Ferguson are gone and its budget deficit has grown as costs, including overtime pay for the police force, have increased. Revenue from sources such as traffic fines, long used to pad municipal finances, has dropped and job cuts for city employees could follow.

For the 21,000 residents of the mostly black community of Ferguson, the year since the Aug. 9 killing of 18-year-old Brown, which sparked months of unrest and racial tensions, has been one of slow recovery.

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A year after shooting, Ferguson faces financial toll
FERGUSON, MO - NOVEMBER 25: A police squad car is turned over by demonstrators during a protest on November 25, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Yesterday protesting turned into rioting following the grand jury announcement to not indict officer Darren Wilson in the Michael Brown case. Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was killed by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer, on August 9. At least 12 buildings were torched and more than 50 people were arrested during the night-long rioting. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 11: Police force protestors from the business district into nearby neighborhoods on August 11, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets as residents and their supporters protested the shooting by police of an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown who was killed Saturday in this suburban St. Louis community. Yesterday 32 arrests were made after protests turned into rioting and looting in Ferguson. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 16: Police stand guard before the mandatory midnight curfew on August 16, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. The curfew was imposed on Saturday in an attempt to reign in the violence that has erupted nearly every night in the suburban St. Louis town since the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Demonstrators protest against the August 9 police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by holding their hands up while gathered on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri late on August 16, 2014. A crowd of some 200 demonstrators defied a curfew that came into effect in Ferguson early on August 17, days after police shot dead the unarmed black teen, triggering a wave of rioting. AFP PHOTO / Joshua LOTT (Photo credit should read Joshua LOTT/AFP/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 12: A demonstrator protesting the killings of 18-year-olds Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Missouri Police officer and Vonderrit Myers Jr. by an off duty St. Louis police officer gets help after being maced by police on October 12, 2014 in St Louis, Missouri. The St. Louis area has been struggling to heal since riots erupted in suburban Ferguson following Brown's death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 15: Demonstrators gather along West Florissant Avenue to protest the shooting of Michael Brown on August 15, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. Protestors raise their hands and chant 'Hands up, don't shoot' as a rally cry to draw attention to reports that stated Brown's hands were raised when he was shot. Tonight demonstration again ended with protestors clashing with police followed by more looting. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 25: Guests raise their hands as they wait in line to enter the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church for the funeral of Michael Brown on August 25, 2014 in St. Louis, Missouri. Michael Brown, an 18 year-old unarmed teenager, was shot and killed by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the nearby town of Ferguson, Missouri on August 9. His death caused several days of violent protests along with rioting and looting in Ferguson. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 25: Michael Brown Sr. yells out as the casket is lowered into the ground during the funeral for his son Michael Brown at St. Peters Cemetery on August 25, 2014 in St. Louis Missouri. Michael Brown, an 18 year-old unarmed teenager, was shot and killed by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the nearby town of Ferguson, Missouri on August 9. His death caused several days of violent protests along with rioting and looting in Ferguson. (Photo by Richard Perry-Pool/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 24: Michael Brown Sr. (L) and Civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton (2nd from left) hold up their hands as attorny Benjamin Crump (R) speaks at Peace Fest music festival in Forest Park on August 24, 2014 in St. Louis, Missouri. Brown is the father of Michael Brown who was shot and killed by a police officer in nearby Ferguson, Missouri on August 9. Michael will be buried tomorrow. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 01: Students stage a 'die in' at Washington University to draw attention to police abuse on December 1, 2014 in St. Louis, Missouri. The 'die in' was part a nationwide protest calling for workers to walk off their jobs and students to walk out of their classes to call attention to the perceived miscarriage of justice sparked by the August 9th death of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson, Missouri. Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was killed by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer. When the grand jury announced on November 24, that Wilson would not face charges in the shooting rioting and looting broke out throughout the area leaving several businesses burned to the ground. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - NOVEMBER 24: People leave a liquor store with items after protestors rioted following the grand jury announcement in the Michael Brown case on November 24, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Ferguson has been struggling to return to normal after Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was killed by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer, on August 9. His death has sparked months of sometimes violent protests in Ferguson. A grand jury today declined to indict officer Wilson. (Photo by Eric Thayer for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 13: Demonstrators protest the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown on August 13, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on Saturday. Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb, is experiencing its fourth day of violent protests since the killing. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 16: Business owner Mustafa Alshalabi cleans damage to his store, Sam's Meat Market, after it was looted during another night of rioting following protests over the shooting death of Michael Brown on August 16, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Alshalabi is carrying a firearm on his side in order to protect his property. Looters ransacked several businesses for several hours as police held a position nearby with military grade weapons and armored personnel carriers (APC). Violent outbreaks have taken place almost nightly in Ferguson since the shooting death of Brown by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 24: Hundreds of demonstrators, many of them Howard University students, march down the middle of U Street Northwest after a grand jury did not intict the white police officer who killed an unarmed black teenager in Missouri November 24, 2014 in Washington, DC. A St. Louis County grand jury has decided to not indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown that sparked riots in Ferguson, Missouri in August. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 25: People protest in Times Square over the Ferguson grand jury decision to not indict officer Darren Wilson in the Michael Brown case November 25, 2014 in New York City. Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was killed by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson, MO police officer, on August 9. Violent protests erupted across the nation yesterday after the grand jury's verdict was announced, most notably in Ferguson, MO, where more than 25 buildings were burned down and stores were looted. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - NOVEMBER 24: A protestor stands in front of police vehicles with his hands up during a demonstration on November 24, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. A St. Louis County grand jury has decided to not indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown that sparked riots in Ferguson, Missouri in August. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 13: Demonstrators listen to speakers during a rally on the campus of Saint Louis University on October 13, 2014 in St Louis, Missouri. The St. Louis area has been struggling to heal since riots erupted following the August 9, killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer in suburban Ferguson. Another teenager, Vonderrit Myers Jr., Was killed by a St. Louis police officer on October 8. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)g (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 12: Demonstrators protesting the killings of 18-year-olds Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Missouri Police officer and Vonderrit Myers Jr. by an off duty St. Louis police officer are confronted by police wearing riot gear on October 12, 2014 in St Louis, Missouri. The St. Louis area has been struggling to heal since riots erupted in suburban Ferguson following Brown's death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - OCTOBER 13: Demonstrators confront police outside the Ferguson police station on October 13, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Ferguson has been struggling to heal since riots erupted following the August 9, killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer in suburban Ferguson. Another teenager, Vonderrit Myers Jr., was killed by a St. Louis police officer on October 8. Several demonstrators and members of the clergy were arrested at the protest after a show of civil disobedience. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - NOVEMBER 25: A Ferguson firefighter surveys rubble at a strip mall that was set on fire when rioting erupted following the grand jury announcement in the Michael Brown case on November 25, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was killed by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer, on August 9. At least 12 buildings were torched and more than 50 people were arrested during the night-long rioting. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - NOVEMBER 12: Plywood covers the glass front of a strip mall along West Florissant Street on November 12, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Many businesses along West Florissant are boarded-up as residents prepare for the grand jury decision in the shooting death of Michael Brown. Many of the stores along the street were looted and vandalized during rioting which broke out after Brown was killed by Darren Wilson, a Ferguson police officer. The city is hoping to avoid a repeat of those riots if the grand jury investigating the shooting does not find justification to prosecute Wilson. The grand jury's decision is expected sometime in November. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
DELLWOOD, MO - NOVEMBER 25: A sign sits amidst rubble at a building that was damaged during a demonstration on November 25, 2014 in Dellwood, Missouri. Demonstrators caused extensive damage in Ferguson and surrounding areas last night after a St. Louis County grand jury decided to not indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 09: Demonstrators march through the streets protesting the October 8 killing of 18-year-old Vonderrit Myers Jr. by an off duty St. Louis police officer on October 9, 2014 in St Louis, Missouri. The St. Louis area has been struggling to heal since riots erupted in suburban Ferguson, Missouri after the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - NOVEMBER 26: Police stand guard as protests engulf Ferguson on November 26, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Over 2,000 Missouri national guardsmen are being deployed a day after demonstrators caused extensive damage in Ferguson and surrounding areas following a St. Louis County grand jury decision to not indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
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Economic strains are showing in a town that, even before the protests, never fully recovered from the 2008 financial crisis.

"People have seen the images of a city out of control," said Brian Fletcher, a city council member and chair of a committee that has raised money for local businesses hit by the riots.

"It has been so difficult for the image of Ferguson this past year. It has been damaging to the economy," he said.

With an annual operating budget of around $14 million, Ferguson's deficit is forecast to increase to $3.2 million in the fiscal year ending in June 2016. That is up from $3 million the previous year and less than $1 million two years ago.

"We can't stay in deficit forever, we may have to start laying off employees," said Fletcher, a former mayor.

He said that could include cuts in the police department, since public safety accounts for about 60 percent of the St. Louis suburb's spending. The department is down to about 50 police officers instead of the 54 budgeted for, which means some savings, but overtime pay in the final five months of last year went $222,000 over budget; another $500,000 has been allocated to overhaul the department.

What's more, Ferguson has begun talks with the U.S. Justice Department over police reforms - which could cost millions - following a scathing report by the agency last spring. In it, the Justice Department said the mostly white police force routinely targeted blacks and showed a pattern of excessive force and illegal arrests.

TICKETS AND TAXES

The outrage triggered by the shooting of Brown, whose body was left lying in the street for hours after he was killed, threw Ferguson into the spotlight and helped spark a nationwide debate about race and policing and the use of lethal force against minorities.

Data kept by the state attorney general's office since 2000 shows that Ferguson police have been disproportionately stopping African-American motorists for years. In 2014, 82 percent of traffic stops were of blacks, who represent 63 percent of the population, and the arrest rate of blacks after traffic stops was three times that of whites.

About nine months after Brown's death, in a measure widely seen as directly linked to the protests over his shooting, the Missouri legislature passed a bill that sharply limited the amount of revenue municipalities can collect from traffic tickets and fines.

The move was hailed by some as a victory on the long road to police and judicial reform. But the cap, combined with a moratorium on red-light traffic tickets, has caused Ferguson's income from traffic fines to drop to about $1 million in the projected 2015-2016 budget, about half the level it was two years ago.

For now, Ferguson's city government is covering its deficit by tapping reserves, which are forecast to fall by two-thirds from before Brown's death to $2.7 million next year.

"The city is going to have to tighten its belt. There's going to be decreased revenue, but Ferguson is still a very viable city," said city council member Wesley Bell.

To offset declining revenue, officials are banking in part on economic development to broaden Ferguson's tax base. A small-business relief fund put together by a coalition of banks, the St. Louis Regional Chamber and the state has allocated $735,000 in interest-free loans to 73 businesses to recover from lost business or damage during the unrest.

The town's largest property tax payers have stayed put, including manufacturer Emerson Electric, retailers Sam's Club, Walmart, and Home Depot, and a shopping mall: Crossing at Halls Ferry. Emerson is expanding, and Centene managed care is building a new claims center in town.

"The businesses are hopeful, and that's why they're still there," said Erica Henderson, Ferguson point person on the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership. She was referring specifically to those businesses in the hard-hit West Florissant Street area of town that have used loans and grants to stay open after last year's protests.

"But they still feel the impact," Henderson added. "People drive through as if it's a shrine. The drivers don't get out of their car and spend money."

(Additional reporting by Carey Gillam and Edward McAllister; Editing by Tom Brown)

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