SIKESTON - The 10-year 1 cent general revenue sales tax approved by Sikeston voters Feb. 3 hasn't even started yet and Sikeston is already seeing the benefits.
Drew Juden, director of the Department of Public Safety, said promises city officials made to beef up public safety with the sales tax are already being fulfilled thanks to City Council members who approved expenditures from the city's reserves in anticipation of the sales tax revenue.
"We haven't collected the first cent yet of tax revenue," Juden said, "and here we are - we have all the changes in place. We're rolling."
Merchants will actually begin to collect the tax Oct. 1. As the SAHEC quarter-cent tax ends Sept. 30, there will only be an increase of three-quarters of a cent at the registers.
The city should begin receiving money from the sales tax in February. It was estimated the sales tax will bring in $2.2 million annually. As Council pledged to rollback property taxes by 21 percent, the net effect should be an additional $1.8 million for the general revenue fund each year.
Equipment for DPS such as patrol vehicles, fire trucks, computers and firefighting gear was covered with or without the sales tax thanks to the capital improvement sales tax, according to Juden. Personnel, however, is the single largest expense for the department accounting for around 60 to 65 percent of the department's budget.
This spring Juden was able to re-establish positions at DPS which were cut over the years due to budget cuts or with promotions.
A sergeant was put in charge of school resource officers and the D.A.R.E. program, and Juden has appointed a new fire marshal, communications supervisor and detective supervisor. The supervisors will train and monitor their crews as well as offer guidance, Juden said.
As promised, the tax has enabled DPS to put more officers on the street, as well. Nine new public safety officers positions filled, the first of which was commissioned March 21.
One of these nine was working undercover for the department until Monday when he was reassigned to regular uniformed patrol duties.
This four-month undercover investigation is a prime example of an operation DPS could not have executed without the additional funding made available by the sales tax, Juden said. In addition to the officer, an undercover investigation requires "a support mechanism behind him that is very manpower intensive," he explained. "Plus it is a very risky job assignment.
"It takes a lot of money, a lot of time and a lot of effort to make a program like that successful because it does have to be run covertly," he added. "If the tax hadn't had been passed, we wouldn't have had the money to run that program."
The additional revenue made available by the sales tax has "allowed us to do things we've talked about doing for many years," Juden said. "It took us three years to get here."
With competitive salaries and benefits, the department is now able to keep its employees, Juden said adding the days of DPS being a "revolving door" for personnel and a "training ground" for other departments appears to be behind. "Our retention has been just phenomenal," Juden said.
Detective Keith Lawson has noticed the department is filling vacancies faster when they come up as well.
"And we've got a better quality of person applying," he said. Lawson said as a detective, he depends on quality work from patrol officers as they are the first on the scene.
"I'm enjoying it here," said Kevin Harris, who joined as one of the department's new public safety officers after working in law enforcement for five years with Perryville police and 10 years in Jackson.
"This is where I wanted to come - it's a great department down here," Harris said. "I've got more experience in eight months here than the last 15 years, just in the law enforcement aspect of it."
Juden easily earns the respect of his officers, Harris said, as he is out there "working the streets" with uniformed officers. "The support you get from the command staff here is tops - bar none," Harris said.
DPS is now well into the first year of a three-year plan, Juden said, with three more PSO hires planned for this year as well as one more dispatcher. The goal is to have them hired in the next four to six months so they can be trained and in place by the first of next year, he said.
Planned for the second year is hiring an evidence technician, two narcotic detectives and another dispatcher.
In the plan's third year, DPS will hire three more PSOs and a dispatcher.
"What's been so great about this is it's not just a DPS project," Juden said. "It's something that the community wanted. It really shows the support that came from the community as well as the City Council in supporting DPS's mission."