[Nameplate] Fog/Mist ~ 29°F  
High: 47°F ~ Low: 48°F
Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014

County wants sales tax extended

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

BENTON -- Scott County commissioners will ask voters at the next general election to continue the county's law enforcement sales tax.

During their regular meeting Tuesday, commissioners said they intend to put the tax proposal on the April ballot.

"We're asking for the continuation of the half-cent sales tax for law enforcement," Commissioner Dennis Ziegenhorn said.

The current half-cent law enforcement sales tax, which was approved by voters for an eight-year period to fund the construction of a jail and to offset the cost of boarding prisoners in facilities outside the county, expires in September 2008.

Scott County Sheriff Rick Walter said the bond for the construction of the jail, which has payments of $700,000 per year, will be paid off in 2008.

Commissioners said they are making the request to continue the tax early so they can plan for the future. For example, a county records storage facility, which may require the acquisition of property close to the court house, will be needed in the near future, according to Presiding Commissioner Jamie Burger.

"Our major concern is, our law enforcement officers are doing exactly what we want and are doing an outstanding job of arresting the criminal element," Ziegenhorn said, "but we don't have the money to house all the people that are being incarcerated -- the expenses are just unbelievable."

"The half-cent tax generates $1.6 million per year," Burger said. "That goes directly into law enforcement and, on top of that, last year out of general revenue we transferred $1,493,000 to law enforcement."

"We've got to come up with some kind of solution," Ziegenhorn said.

Ziegenhorn also noted the jail is presently filled to capacity.

Commissioners are planning on meeting next week with officials from the county's judicial system and prosecuting attorney's office "to discuss some of the ways that we can handle this concern," Ziegenhorn said.

Even with the larger jail built with funding from the half-cent sales tax, housing the county's prisoners remains a major cost for the law enforcement fund, according to commissioners.

"That is something that takes a large amount of money," Ziegenhorn said. He said it takes approximately $34 per day to house each inmate in the county's jail.

Burger said the state's daily reimbursement rate for inmates that are sent to the Missouri Department of Corrections, which was already less than the cost to house an inmate, was cut.

"The state gives us $20 back if they are convicted," he said. "Five years ago we got $22.50." He said state legislators "balanced their budget on the backs of the counties."

Commissioners said they are offsetting costs by bringing in more revenue at the jail with services such as phone cards and concessions.

Inmate phone cards, which the county began offering toward the end of 2005, brought in $8,264 for the county that year. "In 2006 that number went to $29,798," Burger said. Commissioners anticipate that number will rise to $35,000 for 2007.

Revenue from the jail's commissary, which sells snacks and sodas to inmates, totaled $14,418 in 2006, Burger said, and are projected to reach $18,000 in 2007.

"So we're doing things to generate revenues to help ease this deficit for law enforcement," he said. "We are trying to alleviate the burden on taxpayers."

Establishing a new policy requiring a co-pay for inmates requesting medical services and contracting for inmate health care services at the jail has also saved the county money. "Our health care cost has gone down," Burger said.

Inmates contributed a total of $1,294 toward their medical costs through co-

pays in 2006, according to commissioners. They anticipate the total co-pay contribution will reach $5,000 this year as the jail's population remains near maximum capacity.

Walter said these new revenues and cost savings have helped county officials reduce general revenue transfers.

During budget meetings, commissioners have discussed the law enforcement budget in detail, he said.

"We're very conscious of what we spend our money on," Walter said. "We're trying to show people that we're not just spending money frivolously -- we're spending it on what we need."

Burger said commissioners hope voters have noticed that law enforcement's efforts in getting criminals off the streets has improved their neighborhoods.

"I believe we've come a long way in law enforcement," Walter said. "If the money's not there, there could be a chance of us losing some of our law enforcement protection."

Burger said commissioners are willing to discuss the half-cent sales tax proposal with any group or organization looking for more information.

"All they have to do is contact us and one of us will be glad to be there to answer any questions they may have," he said.

"We are always happy to explain how we spend the county's money," Ziegenhorn said.

"Hopefully they'll have faith and trust in us to vote for the tax to continue for law enforcement in the county," Burger said.