The only countywide issue on the April 2 election ballot in Johnson County is Proposition P, which seeks a half-cent sales tax increase to fund current and future Sheriff’s Office and jail operations.
Sheriff Scott Munsterman said the tax is needed to provide competitive wages for deputies and jail personnel to stem frequent staff turnover and to fill seven staff vacancies, add staff, provide needed equipment and maintain facilities.
The measure, if approved, would add $1 to a $200 purchase, he said, but would be paid by non-residents who shop in the county as well as residents.
The tax would provide an estimated $2.6 million in additional annual revenue to support county law enforcement.
Current starting salaries of $10.80 per hour or $22,464 annually for jail personnel and $11.80 per hour or $24,544 annually for commissioned deputies is below the minimum wage Missouri voters approved in November, he said.
Commissioned deputies receive a supplement under a yearly state grant that brings their salary to $30,000, but as the deputies’ base salaries increase, the supplemental pay decreases, Munsterman said.
The goal, he said, is to eliminate dependence on the grant, which could end at any time, causing a critical reduction in personnel and impacting the quality of services.
While government agencies are exempt from the minimum wage law, personnel could leave for better paying jobs with other law enforcement agencies or private industry, he said.
Surrounding agencies pay better, he said, making Johnson County “a training ground” with constant turnover, particularly among jail staff. It is also difficult to attract new employees because of the low wages, he said.
Munsterman said he would like to add four jailers, two detectives and four road deputies to reduce the ratio of prisoners per jailer to 27 to 1, provide additional help with criminal investigations and monitoring and improve safety and security of residents and property and schools in the 824-square-mile county.
The office is still operating with the same number of deputies as 10 to 15 years ago, he said, with 16 road deputies, including five detectives, who provide security for 824-square miles in the county and responding to calls in cities that do not have 24/7 law enforcement.
One deputy is assigned to teach D.A.R.E. in seven of the eight county school districts, he said, but the Sheriff’s Office currently does not have resources to provide security for those districts and the Johnson County Christian Academy.
The Sheriff’s Office is now funded through a half-cent law enforcement sales tax passed in 1993 that requires 45 percent of the annual revenues go to municipalities, and through prisoner board fees for out-of-county prisoners.
The revenue provides about $3.26 million annually to fund operations, with little left to provide pay raises, add staff or improve facilities, Munsterman said.
About $1 million of the $1.7 million in prisoner board revenue goes to pay jailer salaries, he said.
When the county purchased the facility in 2012, it increased from one building that housed 60 prisoners to five structures housing up to 200 people and increased the number of people needed to operate the jail from 15 to 45, Munsterman said.
Maintenance costs for the jail building, which dates from 2000, continue to increase, he said, with dormitory roof repairs and repairs to the heating and cooling system among needed improvements.
A half-cent sales tax would add about $2.6 million in revenue annually, which, in addition to pay raises and increased staffing, would allow for needed repairs and maintenance at the jail, updating the radio communication system and purchase of officer safety equipment, such as dash and body cameras.
The measure requires a simple majority vote for passage.
Staff Writer Sue Sterling | Daily Star Journal