A week after Franklin County revealed its plans for Proposition P to support jail upgrades and law enforcement salaries, the reception has been mixed.
As concerns grow over the timing and need for the half-cent sales tax for Franklin County, county officials are weighing in its importance to the future of law enforcement countywide.
The proposed half-cent sales tax will appear on the April ballot and is expected to generate $6 million per year. Half of the money generated would go to fund the renovation and expansion of the county jail while the other $3 million would go to supplement salaries of law enforcement officers at the sheriff’s department and municipal police departments.
At a meeting Monday, the city of Washington, which is seeking a sales tax extension on the April ballot, voiced concerns about Proposition P and getting its fair share.
Several law enforcement agencies in the county have lost officers recently due to higher wages being paid in neighboring venues.
Earlier this year, voters in St. Louis County and city passed referendums to give officers better pay and equipment.
Washington City Administrator Darren Lamb said Monday that Washington, just like the other jurisdictions in the county, wants to provide competitive wages and keep a higher level of police protection.
At the same time Lamb pointed out if Proposition P passes, Washington businesses would be contributing $1.1 million in sales taxes, while only receiving about $360,000 for salaries.
This raises the question of if the perspective money should be distributed based on the number of officers a municipality has or the overall population of the entity.
Sheriff Steve Pelton, who originally created the distribution formulas, says there are several factors that need to be considered.
“Bad things can happen anywhere at any time,” Pelton said. “All officers are making the same sacrifice no matter where they are working. Who are we to say any life is worth more.”
Currently, county deputies provide assistance to all municipal departments whenever they are requested.
Pelton reminded those in attendance that a sheriff’s deputy was shot while in the line of duty in 2006 while assisting the New Haven police department during an armed standoff.
Pelton added he is currently six deputies short and new needs have arisen for cyber investigators.
With officers already leaving for more money, Pelton fears St. Louis County’s Proposition P, taking effect in January, will lead to more officers leaving Franklin County.
When a seasoned officer leaves, they take years of expertise in their area with them that can never be truly measured and will take time for new officers to acquire.
“Experience absolutely means something,” Pelton said.
As far as the jail is concerned, Pelton said it’s a need that isn’t going away and its population is only getting worse.
“This is something that affects everyone,” he said. “Just ask anyone who has ever been a victim of a crime.”
In addition to jail and law enforcement assistance already provided by the sheriff’s department, the county also provides and foots the bill for medical examiner services to all municipalities as well.
Second District Commissioner Dave Hinson also addressed Washington’s concerns that it wouldn’t be getting as much out of Proposition P as it would be putting into it.
“To say all of the sales tax money would come from Washington residents would be wrong,” Hinson said. “We all go to different cities to spend our money.”
Hinson added he knows this firsthand since he owns a business in Washington.
“If our only customers were Washington residents, we would have had to close three or four years ago,” Hinson said.