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Burris: Bankruptcy a Possibility if Sales Tax Doesn't Pass

The retirement plan for police and fire fighters in the city of Springfield has been a hot topic since February when a proposed one-cent sales tax failed. This Tuesday, voters will consider whether to pass a three-fourth cent sales tax to fund the pension plan. KSMU’s Matt Evans has more.

A three-fourth cent sales tax will cost residents in the city of Springfield an extra seven cents every time they buy a ten-dollar meal. However, City Manager Greg Burris says if the sales tax doesn’t pass, it could cost residents much more.

“It’s not as much a question of can we afford to do this? It’s a question of can we afford not to do this? I don’t know where we’re headed if it fails, but one possibility is municipal bankruptcy.”

In 1946, voters in the city of Springfield voted to create a self funded retirement system for police officers and firefighters. Burris says that it has never been fully funded since its beginning. The problem has gotten progressively worse and now the pension system is $200 million under funded.

“If we don’t resolve this problem and solve it soon, eventually the city’s obligation to put money into the retirement system eats up all the money and you don’t have hardly any services left.”

The city of Springfield is already understaffed by 18 firefighters and more than 30 police officers. Burris believes the best option is to eventually do away completely with the pension plan and give the police officers and firefighters a more stable retirement fund at the state level.

“If this sales tax passes November 3, we will close the plan and the next police officer and firefighter will go into a different type of retirement system.”

February’s vote on the one-cent sales tax failed by a margin of only four percent. Burris thinks that there have been some important things that have changed since the last vote, including more media attention so voters are more familiar with the issue. Another factor that Burris thinks will affect the vote was the formation of a citizen’s task force. Over the summer, 16 citizens took an in depth look into the pension plan crisis and came up with some recommendations which led to this ballot.

“The chair said, ‘I voted no in February.’ But having gone through and spent his entire summer working on this is out advocating for a three-quarter cent sales tax. That ought to tell people something.”

If the sales tax does pass on Tuesday, then there will have to be another vote in five years to decide whether to keep the tax or not.

For KSMU News, I’m Matt Evans.