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Ferguson businesses get loans, Treasurer Zweifel Says

State Treasurer Clint Zweifel spoke about his office’s response to protests in Ferguson and his estimate for rebuilding costs to be “in the millions.”

Protesters staged demonstrations after a grand jury refused last month to indict former police officer Darren Wilson for shooting unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson in August. The area erupted with riots and looting after the decision.

 

Q: What’s been your office’s response to the damage?

A: We really just went door to door and knocked on businesses’ doors for hours and spent half a day talking to those business owners, really just sitting down and listening, trying to identify what gaps they had here and now. Within about five days of the events in August we had put together about a million-dollar loan fund.

 

Q: What’s the purpose of the fund?

A: These are mom and pop shops who aren’t going to get a lot of attention from a state legislature, but we wanted to do everything we can to help them sustain cash-flow during tough times.

 

Q: What are the terms of the loans?

A: It varies based on the borrowers, but essentially they’re zero percent loans with a five-year repayment, but a one-year delay repayment. By no means will this solve all of the problems that we’re facing; it’s important to remember that the financial end is only one piece of this. There are other pieces that bring a community together and finance is part of that. Helping those small businesses is part of that, too.

 

Q: Are you concerned about investor and rating-company reactions to the rioting?

A: It’s important to remember that these rating agencies are looking at years of historical behavior, not a three-month time period. They’re looking at years and years of balance sheets, elected-official behavior, and really the ability to meet expectations and to keep promises that you’ve made, and I’m less worried about that.

The challenges long-term are going to be the affected area’s assessed valuation as that process begins in January for reassessments. How much of that will be driven by the last six months? If they’re reduced, what does that mean for school districts? So, not just municipalities, it’s the school districts that depend more than any other area on property taxes, which is another important piece of this.

 

Q: Ferguson collects more than 15 percent of its annual revenue from public-safety fines. Is that part of the problem between public-safety officers and the community in Ferguson?

A: Municipal court and finance reform in that area is critically important for communities long-term. It’s the right thing to do, you’ll have more sustainable, stronger communities long-term when you’re not incentivized or rely on one particular area. There’re obviously good reasons to have traffic policing — I have teenage daughters who drive -— but you don’t want to have a community so focused on that that they’re not able to provide for basic public safety.