County sales tax money collected through Proposition P would be disbursed to police departments based on the number of commissioned officers they currently have and not the population of the communities they serve.
This tentative consensus was reached Wednesday during a meeting of top law enforcement and city leaders from 10 entities that will be affected by the countywide Proposition P if it is passed by voters in April.
Franklin County is proposing a half-cent sales tax expected to generate $6 million per year. Half of the money will go toward renovation for the county jail and 911 facilities while the additional $3 million will go to supplement all law enforcement agencies in the county.
According to the current formula, the city of Washington, which has the largest concentration of businesses in the county, would be contributing $1.1 million toward the law enforcement portion and receiving roughly $360,000 back.
Washington Police Chief Ed Menefee and City Administrator Darren Lamb are leery of the disbursements, citing Washington will be contributing the largest share of the sales taxes.
“Washington pays a lot out in sales taxes,” Menefee said. “How are our citizens benefiting when they are not getting out of it what they put in?”
Menefee’s question was answered both by Gerald Police Chief Jim Helton and St. Clair Police Chief Bill Hammack.
Both men pointed out the money generated in Washington is not just from Washington residents and Washington residents would also be benefiting from the money going countywide.
“What if a Washington resident has a car accident in St. Clair?” Hammack asked. “My officers would be assisting them and providing services.”
Recently appointed Gerald Police Chief Jim Helton reiterated the fact not all sales tax revenue comes from Washington residents.
“I shop in Washington several times a week,” Helton said. “Walmart is there and my wife drags me there every chance she gets.”
Helton also highlighted the services that benefit all of the communities in the county provided by the sheriff’s department based on their current law enforcement sales taxes that are collected countywide.
“If you add those services and the number of officers they have, they do the most with the least amount of money,” Helton said.
Second District Commissioner Dave Hinson, who owns a business in Washington, said the sales tax money doesn’t ever really belong to the community it is generated in anyway.
“The businesses send the money directly to the state,” Hinson said. “The communities never see it, so it doesn’t belong to them.”
After Menefee’s and Lamb’s concerns were discussed, Franklin County Sheriff Steve Pelton reiterated his past comments that the money distributions should be per officer and not based on population or amount of sales tax contributed.
“Officers are taking the same risks no matter what shield they wear on their chest,” Pelton said.
Each community will get the same amount of money per officer no matter the size of the department.
Pelton added he is fine with yearly reviews of how the Proposition P money is being spent within departments.
Some of that accountability may fall to the county commission when agreements are signed between the county and the individual communities that will receive the Proposition P money.
“All of the cities need to know the restrictions and have to manage the (Proposition P) money when it comes in,” Pelton said. “We are accountable to the taxpayers and transparency is everything.”
The Proposition P money is only to be used for hiring new officers, increasing current salaries, equipment and other needs.
Many at the table Wednesday, including former sheriff Gary Toelke, would like to see language either on the ballot, or in the commission orders, ensuring communities would not use the Proposition P money to supplant any current budget items and that it would go only toward its intended purpose.