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LIBERTY — On Tuesday, Nov. 5, 1,609 voters in Liberty turned out to the polls for the single-question ballot on whether or not to alter city regulations on zoning, population density and creating a permit fee on short-term loan businesses.

In the unofficial results from the Clay County Election Board, in 11 precincts, 1,313 people voted “yes” to 296 “no” votes. This translates to 82% in favor and 18% against the regulation alterations that will limit the number of payday loan lenders in the city and require such businesses to pay to a permit fee.

For more than a year, the Northland Justice Coalition has led the charge to improve racial and economic equality in the community. The payday loan task force has been working “to place tighter boundaries on predatory lenders” in Liberty, according to the group.

Abby Zavos, spokesman for the coalition, said results are not surprising in light of a single-question ballot.

“I’m happy to get the numbers we did,” she said. “We had overwhelming support when we went door to door. We had a boots-on-the-ground effort. I’m proud of what we have done.”

Money loaned by payday lenders is calculated on an annual percentage rate basis, similar to what is used for credit cards, mortgages and auto loans. However, the APR used by payday lenders is substantially higher, ranging from 391% to more than 521% interest for loans.

In comparison, according to debt solutions organizations, the average interest rate on credit cards is 15 to 30%, for debt management programs is 8 to 10% while personal loans average 14 to 35% and online lenders average 10 to 35%.

“We want these lending places to be honest,” Zavos said, adding that now the ballot effort to limit these businesses was successful, other groups will step in and try to help those in need.

Second Baptist Church, for more than two years, has had members helping others deal with payday loans. The church has found a loan lender and church members have been helping people with financial counseling as well as low-interest loans. The group also helps those in need of assistance craft a budget.

Zavos said Independence had similar legislation and a community organization there stepped up to help residents.

“We are working with them to get organized,” she said. “Most people turn to payday loans for $500 or less. We want to turn it around and be a resource in the community. While the issue has passed, we can’t ignore the community needs. I know many of us are hoping that our efforts and the success can be a model for other cities.”

The Liberty City Council will discuss regulations in detail at a later date.

Southeast Editor Kellie Houx can be reached at kellie.houx@mycouriertribune.com or 389-6630.

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