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story.lead_photo.caption Moniteau County Presiding Commissioner Mac Finley and Moniteau County Sheriff Tony Wheatley were the featured speakers at this month's Moniteau County Republican Club meeting. Finley and Wheatley discussed a half-cent sales tax increase that is set to appear on the April election ballot. Photo by Austin Hornbostel / California Democrat.

Attendees at this month's Moniteau County Republican Club meeting heard from a pair of county elected officials regarding an upcoming tax increase proposition.

Moniteau County Presiding Commissioner Mac Finley and Moniteau County Sheriff Tony Wheatley were the featured speakers at the Jan. 16 meeting, where they discussed a half-cent sales tax increase proposition that will appear on the April election ballot. Finley and Wheatley briefed attendees on why they believed such an increase is necessary, explaining by going through some of the county's revenues and expenditures.

In general, Finley said the county's sales taxes, as they currently stand, generate about $600,000 each annually. An internet use tax adds an additional $100,000 to that amount, and the county's share of property tax sits at roughly $1.3 million. In total, Finley said this adds up to about $2.6 million in general revenue. For roads and bridges, revenues sit at around $1.2 million.

On the general revenue side, Finley said just north of $1.2 million goes toward law enforcement-associated expenses.

"We have, for the last several years on the general revenue side — the last three years — had to go into our cash reserve to make it through the year," Finley said. "Every year, it's gone up a bit."

Finley said this is because of inflationary pressures — increased wages as compared to more steady property tax revenues, and the fact that Moniteau County is not a big retail county.

Finley said the biggest challenges as far as inflationary pressures go come from the law enforcement and court perspective. He said the county's court docket is full, and many of those appearing are repeat offenders. Additionally, the county's prosecuting attorney salary, which is set by state statute, represents another significant cost to the county. Along with the position's six-figure salary, Moniteau County contributes an additional $969 per month for its benefits.

Finley said that while the county consistently spends what it takes in on roads and bridges each year, there's an adverse affect over time. He said there are a number of aging structures that require work every year, several of which are in need of replacement.

"As time goes on, year after year, it's making our level of service a little bit worse every year," Finley said.

Returning to labor prices, Finley said the county is getting hit hard by the state of Missouri's increased minimum wage. The county's part-time workers make $9.50 an hour this year, which will have to increase next year.

Wheatley gave the group some background on the county's crime statistics from the past year, to preface his outlining of the challenges the county faces on the law enforcement end. He said that for many crimes, numbers were down — in fact, the county has one of the lowest crime rates within an eight-county radius.

Despite the positive, he said this probably represents the lowest threshold the crime rate could reach and isn't likely to go down any further.

"We're always going to have crime of some sort," Wheatley said. "You can't solve everything, and you can't prevent everything."

In regards to challenges, law enforcement expenditures range widely. Wheatley said new Supreme Court mandates requiring defendants to appear for bond review within 48 hours mean much more time is spent in court for bond hearings, and the state doesn't contribute any funds for the county to help offset the costs accrued. The Missouri Highway Patrol requires that the Sheriff's Department uses electronic fingerprinting software that, while initially paid for by grant in the first year, costs from $5,000-$10,000 per year for maintenance in subsequent years.

Wheatley said salaries are also a challenge, since the Sheriff's Department can't afford to keep up with some of the more competitive salaries being offered in nearby rural counties, leading to less reliable retention. He said losing a road deputy to another department typically comes associated with a cost of $10,000 to account for the cost of hiring, outfitting and training a replacement.

"What's going to happen, if we don't get the tax increased, we're just going to have to reduce our level of service, and the biggest thing (taking the hit) will be law enforcement," Finley said. "I don't know exactly how we'll do it, but we'll have to do something to get our cost in line with what our revenues are. And then, like I said, our level of service on our county roads and bridges is going to go downhill pretty quick, because our costs are going up substantially every year."

The Republican Club will host its annual Lincoln Day Dinner at 6 p.m. Feb. 1 at the California United Church of Christ, and its next regular meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. March 19 at Nic Nac Cafe in California.

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