What passage of Prop P could mean to the GPD

Linda Trest

On the April ballot, Franklin County residents will be asked to approve Proposition P. This would allow an increase of 1/2 cent sales tax county-wide to aid law enforcement throughout the county, including municipal departments. 

If approved, 1/2 of the tax increase (1/4 of a cent) would fund necessary improvements and expansion of the county jail. The remaining 1/4 of a cent would go directly to each city police department in the county and the Sheriff’s office. 

Gerald Police Chief Jim Helton and Mayor Cary Parker attended a meeting of police chiefs, city officials and county commissioners earlier this month concerning Prop P. 

During a discussion on how the funds would be dispersed to local agencies, Parker said that a city official of a large town in the county pushed to have it divvied out according to the population of each town. That official noted that his town would pay in over $1 million in the new tax. 

Helton, according to Parker, fought for Gerald and other small towns. He pointed out that the $1 million would not be collected by only that town’s residents. He noted that residents throughout the county spend money in that town. 

Helton suggested, and was backed by most of the other chiefs, that the money be divided according to the number of officers employed by each town. The Franklin County Commission agreed.

“Everyone who takes part in a community puts money in the kitty,” Helton told The Republican.

 Using 2017 figures, Helton believes the passage of Prop P could bring in an additional $50,000 to the Gerald Police Department. This money could arrive as early as this fall. The projected budget for the police department this year is only $221,346.

The chief and one other officer are the only ones currently on staff in the Gerald Police Department. This week, one of them has the flu, but must continue to report for work. Efforts are being made to hire more officers, but with a starting wage of $11.25 per hour it is hard to attract good applicants.

Franklin County Sheriff Steve Pelton says, “It has become increasingly difficult for law enforcement agencies in Franklin County to recruit and retain a sufficient number of qualified employees. This impacts every Franklin County citizen.” 

Pelton continues, “Competition from other agencies in the St. Louis area compounds this problem when they can offer better salaries and benefits for the same type of work even when it involves a commute.”

In the last year and a half, Franklin County has lost seven deputies who have moved on to higher paying jobs, according to Pelton.

St. Louis County has already passed their own Prop P. Pelton realizes that even if Franklin County does pass Prop P, it will still not be able to match the salaries offered in St. Louis County departments, but it will narrow the gap.

Recruitment of officers has become increasingly competitive.

“My office is down six deputies and several municipalities in Franklin County are also short police officers. We have been assisting Gerald Police with calls due to recruitment issues, although we will always give assistance where needed to support all Franklin County citizens, it does create an extra demand for law enforcement,” Pelton explained.

Current and future crime trends must be considered as well. Pelton says, “We can provide the services and meet the need for the future with additional investigators and deputies.” Helton said law enforcement deals with one percent of the population. As the population grows, so do the numbers included in that one percent.

“The Sheriff’s Office employs a great group of law enforcement professionals and we need to keep the knowledge and experience they have right here in our own communities,” Pelton stresses. “We cannot afford to lose the training, expertise, and skills they possess to another agency.”

Due to its close proximity to St. Louis County, this area has taken a hard hit by the increases in police pay by its neighbor.

More resources are needed to retain, recruit, offer increased services and offer competitive wages. This will allow law enforcement to provide essential services to every citizen. Pelton also believes more resources are necessary to meet the increase in services that technology has created.

“These are issues being faced by all law enforcement agencies nationwide, but most specifically these are issues being faced by the citizens of Franklin County. It is our goal to ensure Franklin County remains a safe place to live, work and raise a family,” Pelton stated.

Helton wholeheartedly concurs.