Two police chiefs in southern Franklin County have expressed their support for Prop P to boost the pay of officers and fund a county jail expansion.

Within the past year and a half, the St. Clair Police struggled to fill seven vacancies. A few left for higher paying positions.

A similar trend has impacted municipal police forces within Franklin County, according to St. Clair Police Chief Bill Hammack.

He is among area police chiefs in favor of Prop P, which is on the April 3 ballot. A similar proposition was approved in St. Louis County last year.

“With these propositions that have been passed and with the pay rates where they’re at in the surrounding counties, it’s already very difficult for us to recruit people to want to come to work in law enforcement for the pay that our departments are at this time,” Hammack said.

Sullivan Police Chief Randy Counts said his department has 18 officers.

“We need to do something to retain the officers we’ve got,” he said. “Hopefully this will also provide better services.”

Prop P is a proposed half-cent sales tax expected to generate $6 million per year. The Franklin County Commission has proposed half of the money will go toward renovations for the county jail and 911 facilities, while the additional $3 million will go to supplement all law enforcement agencies in the county.

Starting salary for a St. Clair police officer is currently around $37,000 and before Prop P passed in St. Louis County, the starting pay was close to $50,000. Hammack said Prop P increased the pay by 20 percent.

Filling Vacancies

Due to retirement, leaving for higher paying positions and death, the St. Clair Police Department struggled to find seven qualified officers to fill vacancies.

“Years ago when we would have openings, we would have 15 to 25, even 30 applications. Now, we’re down to one or two each time and sometimes those applicants are not qualified,” Hammack said.

Counts echoed Hammack’s statement on receiving fewer applications.

“We used to get 20 applicants in the past, now we are lucky to get four,” he said.

Prop P would increase salaries for officers at a competitive level with other counties and provide more funding to the department.

Hammack said he is not one to actively promote or try to encourage sales tax increases, but not enough funding could lead to more problems in the future.

“Professionally, I know where we’re at as a county and I foresee that if we cannot raise funds in some manner to address this issue, we’re going to have some serious issues in the future,” he said.

“We’re already experiencing some major problems and it’s only going to get worse.”

“Pay definitely makes a difference to be competitive,” Counts commented. “The up-and-comers will go where the best salaries and benefits are.

“If we have people who are local we have a better chance to hang onto them.”

With new housing developments and possible developments on the airport property, Hammack said the department will need more officers within the next few years for patrol.

If the pay for those positions are $25,000 to $30,000 a year less than these other surrounding communities, the department will be unable to fill those positions in the future, Hammack said.

In addition to lower pay, Hammack said there has been a low number of officers due to the 2014 Ferguson incident, according to Hammack.

“We don’t have near as many people going into law enforcement because of that,” he said.

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 funds for law enforcement and emergency dispatch services, including but not limited to (1) the acquisition, construction, reconstruction, improvement, maintenance, operating and equipping of a jail, dispatching center and law enforcement facilities and (2) compensation for law enforcement officers, which shall include commissioned officers of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office and commissioned officers of the municipal police departments within Franklin County.

Assistant Managing Editor Gregg Jones contributed to the story.