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Public safety sales tax is topic at business breakfast

Jackson city officials discussed the public safety sales tax request that will be on April 3 ballot at the Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce business breakfast Friday in the Jackson Civic Center.

“We’re here because we’re growing,” Jackson Police Chief James Humphreys told the packed meeting room.

Jackson now has about 11 officers it can put on the road. That’s four or five short of what is recommended for a city the size of Jackson. If approved, the sales tax will add those needed officers.

Currently there are three school resource officers who serve the Jackson R-2 School District. They work with more than 5,000 students in 11 buildings. The sales tax will pay for an additional school resource officer.

Paying the additional salaries is only part of what the 1/2-cent increase in sales tax will do. There is the cost of additional equipment.

“Adding four or five officers costs hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Humphreys said.

Officers wear body cameras that cost about $1,000. They have cameras on their tasers and guns, and video cameras in their cars. The video is recorded and saved on servers.

Officers wear body armor that costs upwards of thousands of dollars. Radios that officers wear cost $6,000 and those installed in cars cost $10,000.

Grants pay some of the cost, but the City must pay its part.

“We try to be as frugal as we can,” Humphreys said.

However, having good equipment helps keep the officers and the public safe.

“You come to Jackson, you get the best equipment of anywhere around,” Humphreys said.

If the sales tax passes, Jackson will build a new police station next to the current one that is shared with the fire department. The fire department will take over the entire old building.

When asked if the new station was a matter of “keeping up with the Joneses” because Cape Girardeau just opened its new police station, Humphreys said that’s not the case at all.

Jackson’s plans have been in the works for five years. “That building is just not practical any more,” he said. More space is needed for offices and for storing evidence.

“We’ve been in the same building 37 years — that’s long enough,” said Fire Chief Jason Mouser. He was just kidding. “We’re very lucky to have public safety departments that get along so well. We’re very fortunate to have a great working relationship.”

The cost of firefighting  equipment keeps going up. A fire truck once was purchased for under $100,000. Last year, the city paid about half a million dollars for one.

“It takes a lot to run these departments,” he said.

Thirty years ago, the fire department received 200 calls a year. Last year, it received just under 1,500 calls.

The department no longer just fights fires. In the mid-1990s, it added vehicle extractions to its duties. The department now has people trained for ice rescues, water rescues and handling hazardous materials.

“That’s why it’s important to add a training officer,” Mouser said. “We have a young department. Half our guys have less than three years experience.”

Turnout gear can cost $4,000 per firefighter; each air pack costs up to $8,000 and their radios cost $6,000.

The 1/2-cent sales tax will raise about $1 million a year that will be used solely for public safety.

Gregory Dullum has worked for The Cash-Book Journal for more than 25 years. Prior to becoming the editor in May 2017, he was production manager, circulation manager and reporter. Before moving to Cape Girardeau in 1988, he was editor of the Saint Louis Park Sailor, a weekly community newspaper in suburban Minneapolis, MN. A native of Minnesota, he returned there after graduating with distinction in 1978 from Ambassador College in Pasadena, CA, with a degree in mass communications. His wife, Marie, whom he met in college, is a native of Zalma, a small town in southeast Missouri. They have two grown daughters and five grandchildren. Gregory may be reached at cashbook@mvp.net.

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