Callaway County commissioners voted Friday to finalize the language for two propositions introducing a pair of half-cent sales taxes to improve criminal justice facilities and salaries.
"I think it's critical to note the hours we've spent on research, discussion and (seeking) public comment," Eastern District Commissioner Randy Kleindienst said. "This is not a thing we've entered into lightly at all."
Now, it's up to Callaway County voters to decide on the two taxes Nov. 5.
Friday's vote was the culmination of months of work by county officials and an advisory committee first convened in January. Officials formed the committee, consisting of a number of influential locals, to discuss potential solutions for a laundry list of issues: a deteriorating and too-small jail, overcrowding at the aging county courthouse, a lack of competitive salaries for sheriff's office employees and more. (For more details on the issues, check out this Fulton Sun article: bit.ly/2U2tsds.)
It became clear to officials and committee members that the county needs a new jail and courthouse or justice center, among other improvements. These projects are estimated to cost tens of millions of dollars — money the county doesn't currently have in its general revenue streams.
By June, commissioners were talking about the need for new taxes.
"No matter how you slice it, we'll have to go out for a ballot issue," Presiding County Commissioner Gary Jungermann said in early June. "The longer we wait, the worse this situation is going to get."
The two propositions have been carefully worded and formulated, right down to the hyphens.
"There have been 12 or 13 different versions," Jungermann said Friday. "The county clerk and her office have looked over it, and we've also had assistance from an outside attorney who gave us information on what we should or should not do. I believe we've come up with about as good ballot language as we can."
He added the county wouldn't even be considering adding these taxes if the need wasn't extreme.
"The passage of these propositions would highly enhance criminal justice operations and definitely be an asset to the community's public safety," Sheriff Clay Chism said. "There are three pieces to that wheel: police, the courts and corrections. These propositions provide enhancement for all those pieces."
Proposition 1 would be an ongoing tax — without a built-in sundown. In addition to helping pay for the construction and operation of facilities, it's also aimed at expanding and better compensating the county's law enforcement officers.
Here's the full text of the proposition: "Shall the County of Callaway, Missouri, impose a countywide sales tax at the rate of one-half of one percent for the purpose of providing law enforcement services for the county, including, but not limited to, increasing the number of deputy sheriffs on patrol, investigators, corrections officers, assistant prosecutors and support staff, equipping those positions and enhancing compensation packages to improve competitive hiring and retention, and supplementing the cost of construction, renovation and operation of law enforcement facilities?"
Proposition 2 is aimed directly at paying for a new justice center, expanding law enforcement facilities and renovating the existing courthouse into offices. It would expire within 21 years and cannot be implemented unless voters approve Proposition 1.
The full text of Proposition 2: "Shall the County of Callaway, Missouri, impose a countywide sales tax at the rate of one-half of one percent for a period of 21 years from the date on which such tax is first imposed for the purpose of paying for the construction of a new Justice Center, expansion of the Callaway County Law Enforcement Center and transition of the existing courthouse for use as a County Government Center?
"If approved, this sales tax will expire on April 30, 2041, or at the time final payment occurs on the project financing, whichever comes first. Collections for this Proposition are not to begin until the one-half of one percent sales tax of Proposition 1 is also approved."
Kleindienst noted Proposition 1 isn't intended to replace the law enforcement funding currently provided through the county's general revenue.
"The intent is to enhance the stream we already have," he said.