Editor's note: This story originally ran in the March 18 edition of the Democrat, prior to the postponement of the April 7 municipal election. With the election now set to take place June 2, the Democrat is re-running articles providing information about ballot measures that voters will decide on when they go to the polls next week.
Moniteau County voters will make a decision on a new half-cent sales tax funding law enforcement and county road and bridge maintenance and repairs in the upcoming June 2 election.
The new tax levy, Proposition P, would generate $600,000 in total annually, with each of law enforcement and roads and bridges receiving half of that amount. The cost to citizens per year would average $37.50.
Moniteau County Presiding Commissioner Mac Finley said the county has a large amount of unfunded mandates passed down to the county on the law enforcement side of the equation, and there are 530 miles of roadway system to maintain countywide. This includes a costly ten miles of asphalt roadway, which Finley said is in need of surface upgrades. That extensive road network includes some bridges that are at least 80 years old, which are in need of repair or replacement
Finley said money coming into law enforcement more recently has been funneled from the county's capital reserve, taking money away from capital projects like that asphalt roadway or repairs to the aging county courthouse.
"If we don't get a tax increase, it's going to cripple us on our cash reserves," Finley said.
Finley said inflation hasn't done the county any favors, either. The last tax increase passed countywide was an internet tax in 2012, which generates $120,000 per year. The county's half-cent capital improvement sales tax passed in 2002, but inflationary pricing has offset the benefit that levy provides today, Finley said.
"And upward pressure on the labor market has really hit us, too," Finley said.
Missouri's minimum wage increases and low area employment contribute to this pressure, Finley said, along with insurance costs for percentage-based contributions to county employees' health care plans and skyrocketed liability insurance prices.
"We're just up against the wall," Finley said.
Finley said adjoining counties — such as Cole, Cooper and Boone — already carry higher sales tax rates than Moniteau County, so a tax increase wouldn't necessarily equate to a negative effect on businesses inside county lines.
From the law enforcement perspective, Moniteau County Sheriff Tony Wheatley said the cost of effectively doing business has risen significantly in the past 20 years. Costs have skyrocketed, Wheatley said, and it adds up when considering everything the department needs to keep up with — training costs, salaries, maintaining the jail.
Wheatley said the current sales tax keeps the sheriff's department operating at its current capacity — since it revamped in 2017, Wheatley has increased road patrols to drop crime rates. He said the department wouldn't be looking to go out and buy new equipment or anything of that nature with Proposition P revenue, nor could it.
"With a tax increase, if it passes, that'll just keep us afloat," Wheatley said. "That'll keep us doing pretty much what we're doing right now. Without that tax, we've already cut positions on the jail side, so our next cuts would have to come on the road side of the sheriff's office. That would be devastating to the county, I think."
Wheatley said it's a danger to deputies if the department is forced to only have one individual patrolling and will likely result in a spike in crime rates.
"I think it'll affect each and every citizen in the county one way or another," Wheatley said. "You may not need law enforcement (assistance) today or tomorrow but at some point, more than likely, there will be a need for law enforcement service in the future."
Many area counties have already done what Moniteau County is hoping to here, Wheatley said, as they've passed their own law enforcement taxes. This includes Morgan, Osage and Callaway counties — "Because they saw this coming several years ago," Wheatley said.
And investing in the reduction of crime rates is worthwhile, Wheatley said, when it's a draw for new businesses to come to Moniteau County as opposed to moving next door.
Road and bridge improvements go hand in hand as far as county growth goes, Finley said. County roads have seen heavier traffic over the years as more citizens come in to populate the county, and the county's status as a strong livestock producer depends on tractor trailer operations that would be benefited by better road improvements and maintenance.
"And we want the county to grow," Finley said. "Sadly, I think it will impede that growth somewhat if we're not able to provide the services we need to provide."
As the June 2 election approaches, the proposition has a group of supporters — dubbed "Friends of Moniteau County" — that has been hosting community meetings to help voters learn more about what they'll be voting for. Finley said response, so far, has been positive.
Though new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on public gatherings have forced the next couple community meetings to cancel, Finley said it has been good, thus far, to be able to answer questions for concerned members of the public at various appearances around the county.
Finley said voting yes on Proposition P, put simply, will allow the county to maintain its current level of service for law enforcement, and increase its level of service for roads and bridges.
"To keep our county vibrant, we'd like to have this tax pass," Finley said.