SIKESTON -- Scott County commissioners will again ask voters to extend the half-cent sales tax for county law enforcement -- but this time only for another eight years.
During a special joint City Council meeting with the Scott County Commission Tuesday morning, commissioners asked council members to back them in their attempt for an eight-year countywide law enforcement sales tax.
"We're here today to ask for your personal support and your support as a group," said Presiding Commissioner Jamie Burger.
An eight-year half-cent sales tax for the construction of the jail and law enforcement expired Sept. 30.
"Our jail will be paid off next month," Burger said.
Commissioner Dennis Ziegenhorn said that law enforcement expenses other than the jail construction that the the former tax helped pay for are still there.
Being a larger jail than the one it replaced, costs of staffing and maintaining are higher.
Yet even though the jail holds three times as many prisoners as the one it replaced, the county still must pay to board prisoners in other jails. "Our jail is full all the time," Burger said.
Also while the county has not increased the number of staff at the sheriff's department since moving into the new jail, law enforcement costs such as fuel and insurance have risen significantly over the last eight years.
Commissioners first asked voters to make the countywide half-cent law enforcement sales tax permanent at the April 4, 2007, election but were denied.
In January, county officials are facing their first fiscal year without the $1.7 million the old law enforcement sales tax brought in.
Mayor Mike Marshall asked what commissioners think will happen if a sales tax is not approved.
"I just think it will mean a cut in services," Burger said. He said the county's roads and bridges should be OK as there is funding earmarked for roads and bridges and transfers are not made from the county's general revenue fund. Commissioners will have to make tough choices for cuts in the county's other departments, however.
Burger said commissioners are seeking support from all the cities in the county, starting with the largest, Sikeston, and working their way down. Civic organizations will also be approached, Burger said.
"A sales tax is the fairest tax," Ziegenhorn said. "Everybody pays."
With a sales tax, "people passing through are here putting money in the local economy," Burger said. He added that a lot of county money from the sales tax ends up going right back into Sikeston.
Burger said commissioners are considering including a property tax abatement in the ballot language as an incentive to voters to approve the tax.
Michael Jensen, publisher of the Standard Democrat, suggested that a better incentive for Sikeston voters would be to not abate property taxes but to send a portion -- something around $160,000 per year -- back to the city.
Burger said commissioners are leaning toward putting a sales tax proposal before voters during the February election.
"Would it not make sense to do this in April?" Marshall asked.
Burger said he doesn't know if there is ever a good time to ask voters to approve a tax.
Also discussed during the meeting were ideas about pooling city and county resources to establish a regional 911 dispatching center in Sikeston.
"I'm all for it. We need to address this as a regional problem," Burger said. "I'd be in complete support of it."
Council members advised commissioners they will need some time to discuss issues before deciding whether to endorse the county sales tax or not.
The deadline to put the sales tax on the February ballot is Nov. 22.