When Franklin County voters go to the polls in April, they will be asked to approve a half-cent sales tax for the benefit of law enforcement in Franklin County.
How that request is worded will be very important and may hold the key to its passage or failure.
This fact has not been taken lightly by the Franklin County Commission, which presented sample language to top law enforcement brass and city leaders from communities who would benefit from the new tax.
Although it may still be tweaked between now and the Jan. 23 filing deadline, here is the most recent version of the Proposition P ballot language:
• Shall Franklin County, Missouri, impose a county-wide sales tax of one-half of one percent (1/2 of 1%) for the purpose of providing public safety services, including but not limited to (1) the acquisition, construction, reconstruction, improvement, maintenance, operating and equipping of a jail, dispatching center and other public safety facilities, (2) the acquisition of public safety equipment and (3) compensation for public safety employees, which shall include commissioned officers of the Franklin County Sheriff’s department and commissioned officers of municipal police departments within Franklin County?
Special instructions will be included on the ballots as well and may read as follows:
• INSTRUCTIONS TO VOTERS: If you are in favor of the proposition, place an X in the box opposite “YES.” If you are opposed to the proposition, place an X in the box opposite “NO.”
The exact wording of the ballot question was discussed by the city and police leaders with a few suggestions made to tighten some of the wording.
One of the suggestions was to replace the term “public safety equipment” with “law enforcement equipment.”
This was suggested by Washington City Administrator Darren Lamb, who said public safety could involve a lot of different things, including fire apparatus, and since the tax focuses on law enforcement only, the language should specifically reflect that.
Last summer, after the passage of a similar Proposition P in St. Louis County, some communities drew criticism for using the money for questionable “public safety” improvements.
More specifically, taxpayers in Chesterfield blasted their city council for using portions of its Prop P money to fill potholes.
Chesterfield’s mayor, Bob Nation, was in opposition to Prop P from the beginning arguing his community would not be receiving the same percentage of funds as its businesses would generate by the tax.
Former Franklin County Sheriff Gary Toelke said he would like to see a sentence added to the ballot language to restrict municipalities from using the Prop P funds to supplant other existing budget items for law enforcement.
Chesterfield received $2.3 million in Proposition P funds and Nation said his officers were already well paid and the department didn’t have any unmet needs, thus the money could be used in other “public safety” ways.
Toelke has been asked to lead the charge for Proposition P and will be making efforts to educate the public countywide on the need for the additional funding for the jail and officers.