Welcome aboard for another trip around Pulaski County with the deputies of the Pulaski County Sheriff's Office on a wet rainy day with the word snow in the forecast. Yup, I said the four-letter word "snow." And it is a four-letter word in all respects. Hopefully the weather guys are wrong once again.
We have had a busy week. As most of you will remember, we have been trying to bring the jail standard up in our county. This past week we had full work crews hard on the job. We are removing the fire hazard wooden plywood ceiling and replacing it with non-combustible wire mesh. The lighting fixtures are being replaced. The skylights are being replaced and security mesh added below them. Then there are a host of minor details that are being corrected. Once the work has passed by a vacant cell, we will clean and disinfect the cell before we allow anyone back in the unit. In order to do all this, we moved almost all the male inmates to Miller County for a few days. I would love to paint the entire wing while it is vacant but that will prolong the visit to Miller County, which is costing us dearly. So once we get everything else done we will paint the wing one cell at a time until we are done. When we do get done, we may have a halfway decent jail for occupancy.
While we were working on the jail, KSPR-TV came to town for an interview and they wanted to film the jail. Since there were no inmates on the male side I let them film that side. Our jail is an antique and I believe that fact clearly shows in the film footage. I know the film will show a dull and dreary jail but once we get these long-overdue repairs completed, it will be much better. It will still be a place you would not want to visit, but it will be much more people-friendly than it has been in the past.
Speaking of jails, I had a rather large size hint delivered to me a few weeks ago that Miller County would be willing to house all of our inmates and deliver them to and from our county for court. It would only cost around $900,000 per year. That's only $200,000 or so more than our total cost right now. Maybe I should include a total cost of the jail expense for 2008 in my next column. I suspect many of you would be shocked at the actual expense we recorded last year.
In other news, I had a question about the sales tax rates around the area. I checked with a friend in the business world and here is what I learned. The state of Missouri gets 4.25 cents per one dollar in sales tax revenue. The city of St. Robert gets 2 cents per dollar and the special St. Robert Boulevard tax district gets an additional half-cent per dollar. Pulaski County gets a half-cent per dollar. The Pulaski County Ambulance District gets a half-cent per dollar. The 911 Communications Center gets a quarter-cent per dollar. These rates were effective as of Dec. 8 of last year. I am sure that if the person who gave me these numbers was wrong, somebody will point that fact out very quickly.
So what do these sales tax revenue numbers mean? Leaving the state of Missouri out of the mix, the numbers mean that the Pulaski County Ambulance District has the same yearly income that Pulaski County does, the 911 Center has half the sales tax revenue of Pulaski County, and St. Robert has four or five times as much sales tax revenue as Pulaski County each year.
I believe that this little tidbit of info may give the budget problems of Pulaski County a whole new perspective. I could also place the sales tax revenue into another context and I could say that in general terms the ambulance district has a cool half-million dollars more each year to operate on than the sheriff's department. Of course the sheriff's department has a cool half million more each year to operate on than the 911 Center.
Now before anyone gets into an uproar over my statements let me clearly say that I watch the ambulance district and the 911 center operations very closely. I also have a very good grasp of their resources and the DEMANDS placed on them. Since this is my column and I say what I think, I will offer my own opinion that both of them need more funds to operate at the level that can be and is FORCED upon them. For example, it is not the least bit unusual to hear other adjoining ambulance districts placed on "standby" for the Pulaski County Ambulance District because all of the PCAD crews are on a call. What happens if a major medical emergency such as a massive vehicle accident on I-44 with multiple victims occurs? It is not the least bit unusual to hear a 911 operator tell an officer to "stand by" on his information request because they are handling rush traffic. What happens if the officer is suddenly involved in a shooting incident on his call because he did not get critical warning information?
The bottom line is that the 911 Center does not always have sufficient help on hand to insure a 100 percent immediate response to all radio traffic. PCAD does not have the manpower to ensure an immediate 100 percent response to all their calls. And for the record, the Pulaski Country Sheriff's Office does not have the manpower on hand to ensure an immediate 100 percent response to our calls. The Pulaski County citizen who is calling for help or who is affected by the emergency at hand does not want to hear about anything less than a 100 percent immediate response from ALL of the Pulaski County emergency services to his emergency.
In other news, I believe that I need to make sure everybody understands my position on the dispatch issue. I do not intend to lose the dispatch/MULES function. I will move deputies into the dispatch unit if necessary to keep the unit in operation. If the unit is taken away from the sheriff's office, we will face major problems due to the loss. The removal will also violate a Pulaski County Circuit Court settlement agreed to by the members of the Pulaski County Commission and the Pulaski County sheriff to settle a lawsuit.
We have started the training of one new dispatcher and very shortly I will have one deputy on light duty status that has the required dispatch certifications and we will let her work dispatch for some time. The unit can and will survive.
I believe that it is time to close the book on column number fourteen. I will once again ask that you all drive with care. As I write these words today, several Pulaski County EMS crews are headed for the 164-mile marker on I-44 for a reported vehicle rollover accident. So drive with care and keep your actions legal. One good way to save money from our inadequate budget comes about when we do not have to lock you up in the first place. So stay away from our jail! But the light is on if you just have to visit.