Nearly a year ago, Osage County Sheriff Mike Bonham proposed a sales tax to help improve law enforcement services in the county.
Osage County voters will decide whether to approve such a tax in the Nov. 5 election.
It would require a simple majority to pass.
Due to new people joining the Osage County Commission and the county clerk’s office, the ballot proposal did not make it onto the August ballot as originally planned, Bonham said.
He estimated the tax would generate $500,000-$600,000 a year.
Osage County already has a law enforcement sales tax, but the majority of that money goes to fund the 911 Center, Bonham said. This tax, if passed, would be used for wages and equipment for Osage County Law Enforcement. Currently, the county general revenue funds pay for the operation of the Sheriff’s Department.
As it is in many small communities, Bonham said, trying to find qualified individuals to work for low pay is at the heart of the matter.
“Fortunately, at the Sheriff’s Department, we have all eight positions filled in the patrol division, and we have five jailers on staff with only one opening,” Bonhman said.
That could change very quickly, though, he added.
“Our department, like most our size, is a stepping stone for people to move to bigger departments such as Cole County,” he said. “It’s happened in the past, and it will happen again.”
The current starting pay for an Osage County deputy is $25,500, and they can top out at $30,000, Bonham said.
“Law enforcement right now is not sustainable, and that’s a concern because there are simply not enough people coming into the profession right now to counter the ones who are leaving,” he said. “If this passes, it would make us competitive. We can’t pay as much as Cole County, but it would give us the ability to adequately pay for a county our size. It would also give some relief to the general revenue fund so more of those monies could help the 911 center.”
If the tax is approved, starting pay for a deputy would be $33,800 and top out at $35,000. Starting pay for jailers would go from $24,500 to $28,000.
If the tax passes, Bonham said, he would like to put in place a system that would take into account years of service and a person’s rank, which would also lead to salary increases.
“The money will also be used to upgrade our in-car computers so we can use GPS dispatching and get to people in our county with the fastest response times possible,” Bonham said.
He said he has been making presentations to local civic groups to explain what the tax would be used for and why it is needed.