County urged to allow public vote on special law enforcement tax

Darrell Todd Maurina

PULASKI COUNTY, Mo. (Jan. 16, 2009) — While county commissioners have asked Sheriff J.B. King to find ways to cut $125,000 out of his budget, Big Piney resident Lois Snyder asked the commissioners on Thursday morning why they haven’t followed King’s request to put a law enforcement sales tax on the ballot to increase the sheriff’s department budget.

“Other counties in Missouri have faced these same problems and solved them by putting a law enforcement tax on the ballot; they have built adequate jails to house not only their own inmates but those from other counties and agencies,” Snyder said.

Snyder cited Texas County, Bates County, and Morgan County as examples of nearby counties that have built new jails despite having much smaller populations than Pulaski County, and passed out copies of a recent article from the Houston Herald on the new Texas County facilities. She also cited Pulaski County’s experience with successfully convincing voters to pass special dedicated sales taxes for the Pulaski County Ambulance District and the Pulaski County 911 Center.

“If you look back and see what a different putting the PCAD and 911 on the ballot made in meeting the needs of Pulaski County residents, you will realize that is the best solution to the problem that we are facing now,” Snyder said. “To our newest commissioner (Rick Zweerink), I would suggest that you reach out to commissioners in other counties and talk with them about how they solved some of the same problems we are having here. There is a commissioners’ association and there are other resources that you can use to learn what needs to be done and how to do it. You must educate yourself on every issue so that you can make an informed decision; otherwise you are just playing ‘follow the leader.’ Call sheriff’s departments in other counties and listen to how they do things.”

Cutting the sheriff’s budget rather than passing a sales tax will hurt rather than help matters, Snyder said.

“Every cut you make in the budget needs to be carefully thought out,” Snyder said, arguing that a recent decision to cut insurance on older patrol cars will save only $2,286 per year while costing more than that to repair or replace the older patrol cars. Some of the new equipment on the vehicles such as radios and light bars may be more valuable than the cars themselves, she noted.

Cutting staff members may not cut costs, Snyder warned, and could also imperil deputy safety due to exhaustion.

“Any funds that you manage to save by layoffs will be offset by comp time,” Snyder said. “As employees and their families suffer from ‘burnout,’ lack of adequate pay, and lack of needed equipment that helps ensure their safety and ability to do their job, they will find jobs elsewhere. When they do, the county will pay out thousands of dollars in comp time, and a loss of manpower will lead to an increase in crime rates.”

While Snyder and others have advocated a half-cent law enforcement sales tax that would go specifically to the sheriff’s department, Ransdall said he had proposed a much smaller tax increase that would go to the county’s general revenue fund, including but not limited to the sheriff’s department.

Snyder said the smaller sales tax proposal wouldn’t have solved the problem.

“Lois, $500,000 would look great to me right now,” Ransdall said. “Very few people want a half-cent sales tax added right now. We are not $2 million out of whack; we are about a quarter million out of whack.”

“It’s going to cost $10,000 to put a tax on the ballot. Where are you going to get it?” Ransdall asked. “Are you going to take it out of the sheriff’s budget and gamble on a tax increase passing?”

Zweerink said there’s no point in asking voters in the current economic climate to vote for a tax increase.

“It won’t pass,” Zweerink said.

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