County asked to bid for license office to raise more money for sheriff
By: Darrell Todd Maurina
Posted: Thursday, February 19, 2009 11:36 pm
PULASKI COUNTY, Mo. (Feb. 19, 2009) — Local resident Gary Porter, a former city administrator for both Waynesville and St. Robert, has an idea to fund the sheriff’s department and other county operations: reassign the vehicle license fee office from its current agent, Charles Bassett of Dixon, to the county commission.
License fee offices in Missouri are assigned by the sitting governor to whoever he chooses, and have traditionally been given to the governor’s political supporters. Missouri’s new governor, Jay Nixon, has pledged to take bids for the license fee offices rather than using them as part of a political patronage system.
Porter submitted a letter to the editor of the Waynesville Daily Guide, printed in that paper’s Feb. 11 edition, urging Presiding Commissioner Bill Ransdall to urge Nixon to assign the office to the county.
“The Governor has stated on numerous occasions that he wants to award these offices to ‘Not-for-Profit’ organizations rather than an individual, which is the current situation. I’ve never seen a better example of a ‘Not-for-Profit’ than our county!” Porter wrote.
Ransdall often cites his connections with Nixon, who served for many years as Missouri’s attorney general before running for governor and winning that office in November. Both are Democrats, and Ransdall served as the budget committee chairman of the Missouri House of Representatives when Democrats were still a majority of that chamber.
“I’m sure with the influence our Presiding Commissioner has with Governor Nixon, this shouldn’t be too much of a sell for him,” Porter wrote in his letter to the editor. “It’s a no-brainer! Having the License Fee Office located in the Court House would be more logical and convenient for multiple transactions, such as getting tax receipts as well as other needed documentation. I’m not sure about the amount of fees generated for this office, but I’m told this office is one of the better fee offices outstate. All profits could be given to the Sheriff’s office for patrol cars or such. Or the Commission could choose to budget the funds where needed with the majority going to the Sheriff’s office.”
Porter followed up his letter with a personal visit Thursday morning to the county commission.
Porter, an active member of the Republican Party, noted that he’d been advocating reassignment of the license fee office to the county and had gotten into a public dispute with Republican officials for advocating the same policy in the past.
“I know you could be helpful,” Porter said to Ransdall. “This is not a political thing; I’ve been supporting this for 30 years.”
Ransdall said he’s concerned that a bid by the county commission to run the license fee office would turn into a dispute between several good organizations, possibly including the Missouri Ozarks Community Action organization. Ransdall serves on the MOCA board.
“There will be a lot of interest in this. I’m sure the current person will be interested in this, and I think a lot of other organizations will be interested,” Ransdall said. “The way the current governor is doing this is because of how the prior governor did it and all the bad press he got.”
Former Gov. Matt Blunt assigned the Pulaski County license fee office to a prominent local Republican who is the father-in-law of State Rep. David Day, who succeeded Ransdall in the state legislature. Day has repeatedly said in public that he did not use any influence to get Blunt to assign the license fee office to his father-in-law, and the Pulaski County license fee office didn’t attracted the same level of criticism as some of Blunt’s other decisions on license fee agents.
While Porter said he’d like to see the license fee office move to the county courthouse and noted that the equivalent offices in his former state of Iowa are located in courthouses, Ransdall said he’s not sure that’s possible in Pulaski County.
“I don’t know where we’d put them, Gary. It’d be difficult for us to house them in here now,” Ransdall said, noting that the only currently vacant rooms in the courthouse are on an upper floor. Porter agreed that the license fee office needs to be on the first floor and said one of the current county officials should handle the license fee work, but said he didn’t want to name that county official with media present in the room.
Commissioner Bill Farnham said he thought rearranging current county offices would make it possible to have the license fee facility in the courthouse.
“I think we could do some shifting; we’d probably make people a little bit upset,” Farnham said.
Porter said something clearly needs to be done about the county’s financial situation, and getting the license fee office could be a way to obtain more money without raising taxes.
“I think you need to be looking for other sources of income. There are a lot of people out there who think we should be moving forward, not looking backward,” Porter said.
Ransdall repeated his prior concern about Pulaski County entering a bidding dispute with other agencies, naming two on which he serves as a board member.
“I don’t know how we’d fare against some of the other good organizations out there. How would be line up against the Pulaski County Growth Alliance? How would this line up compared to MOCA?” Ransdall asked.
“The problem is they’re surviving and the county is going backward,” Porter replied.
County commissioners also went on record opposing a bill before the legislature that would link the sheriff’s salary to 65 percent of what counties are required to pay the associate circuit judge.
Farnham, who has been a strong supporter of increased funding for the sheriff’s department, opposed the legislative proposal.
“This is another one of their unfunded mandates,” Farnham said. “I’m not opposed to giving them a raise if we can afford it, but this just divides the commissioners even more from the other elected officials.”
Farnham noted that a change in state law requiring that counties pay full-time prosecutors the same salary as associate circuit judges “caused a lot of problems for a lot of counties.”
Ransdall agreed, but noted that Pulaski County hasn’t yet raised Pulaski County Prosecutor Deborah Hooper’s salary to $110,000. That will be required for whoever is next elected in 2010, he said.
“She came down here and asked for it, and I told her I didn’t believe we could give it because it was passed during her term,” Ransdall said.
Ransdall said the current salary of Sheriff J.B. King is $55,000, and would have to be raised significantly to equal 65 percent of the associate circuit judges’ salary.
“That would be an increase of $16,000, plus if you put another 30 percent of that for fringe benefits, it’ll be about $20,000,” Ransdall said.
Farnham suggested that Pulaski County send a note to the legislature saying they’re willing to pay the higher sheriff’s salary if the state pays the full amount authorized by state law for jail inmate room and board, but Ransdall said that’s probably not a prudent linkage of unrelated issues.