Appearing at the Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce Business Breakfast Feb. 21, Cape Girardeau County Sheriff Ruth Ann Dickerson explained the need for a half-cent law enforcement sales tax request that will appear on the April 7 ballot.
If passed, the sales tax will generate approximately $7 million annually for county law enforcement.
The Sheriff’s Office is operating on a budget of $7,336,000. Revenue for the operations have not gone up over the years; they have remained flat or have been falling due to legislative changes. Some revenue streams are drying up completely.
The time has come for a boost in revenue for the Sheriff’s Office.
“We need to increase our salaries to keep our officers,” explained Dickerson. “We are competing with our own local communities.”
Starting pay at the Sheriff’s Office is $28,000-$32,000. The Jackson Police Department starting salary is $36,000 and the Cape Girardeau Police Department starting salary is $38,000.
“Minimum wage for some of my positions won’t even be met in two years when minimum wage goes up,” Dickerson said.
“Staffing for the jail and for the patrol is not adequate,” she added. “We have not been able to add to staff, nor are we able to address future needs due to lack of budget growth and [the] deficit. Equipment replacements, repairs and needs are not being met. Building repairs and replacements issues are not being met,” she said.
“We are a jail housing 220-plus inmates. We have housed as many as 285 inmates in that jail sitting right up there on that corner. We are operating it 24/7 under arduous conditions, and the safety and protection of our officers, the inmates and even our citizens, could be put at risk if those issues are not addressed,” she said.
The estimated cost to add 10 patrol officers, 18 jail officers, two jail transport officers, two court relay officers, with salaries and benefits; and to make repairs and equipment upgrades, is at least $10.9 million, she said.
“An estimated tax of $7 million that we’re asking for, along with $1.4 million from Prop 1 revenues, will not even cover our future expenses. So we are still going to have to ask for an additional $2.1 million from the general revenues,” Dickerson said.
The Sheriff’s Office currently receives $4 million from the county’s general revenue fund.
“I can’t stress to you enough the need for adding additional officers. Today, in the jail I have four staff guarding 250 inmates. The Bureau of Justice recommends at least 16 staff.
“Staff was supposed to be added over the years—it’s no one’s fault—it’s just [because of] the way the revenues have been coming in [and] the legislation changes that has taken place, that we are addressing this issue. It has not happened overnight. It has been several years in coming, and no one wants to be that person to put that tax on the ballot.
“But I’m coming to you today to tell you that we cannot suffer through this any longer,” Dickerson said. “We are going to have to address it.”