Sheriff seeks immediate raises

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

When Cape Girardeau County commissioners begin work on the 2007 budget this week, the thorniest issue seems to be who will be first in line to spend a new half-cent sales tax.

Competing interests include the Cape Special Road District, the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department, paving gravel roads and the ongoing operations of the County Highway Department.

Sheriff John Jordan has asked for a $900,000 increase in his budget, enough to pay for the raises promised during the campaign for the new tax and hire the additional deputies who were also part of the package.

During the commission's Monday meeting, Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones said he doesn't see how the county can afford that increase because revenue from the tax won't start arriving until March. The spending plan takes effect Jan. 1. County Treasurer Roger Hudson has estimated that during 2007 the county will receive $4.1 million from the new tax.

Reminded that the raises were promised, Jones replied: "Promised hell. We are not going to have that much money."

Jones seems adamant that the special road district, which is slated to receive enough money to replace its property tax discontinued by the August vote, should not have to wait to begin receiving the money.

"We get money on a monthly basis, and they want money on a monthly basis," he said.

Discussions of spending for each county department will begin Thursday, with the commission holding afternoon and Friday sessions to talk about the entire county budget. When those discussions are completed in the ensuing weeks, a public hearing on the entire county budget will be held Dec. 21.

The tax issue passed by 131 votes on Aug. 8. Commissioner Jay Purcell said in an interview that he believes the deputies should be first in line for the tax money.

"We can do this, and we should do this, and I know I am right," he said.

The raises aren't the highest priority for spending the new revenue for Commissioner Larry Bock. Getting money to the Cape Special Road District to spend in 2008 and making sure there is money set aside for operating the county road department that year are his top items for the tax funds. "My highest priority in '07 is to make all the entities whole in '08," he said. "That is our No. 1 obligation."

Jordan wasn't present for Monday's discussion, which wasn't on the commission's posted agenda. But he said in an interview that deputies and other sheriff's employees should be the commission's first priority. Giving money to the Cape Girardeau Special Road District while making deputies wait would be a mistake, Jordan said.

"In my heart of hearts, I believe the law enforcement issue is what sold this tax," he said. Putting the road district ahead of deputies "would be a mistake," he said.

Jordan said he usually submits his budget request and hears back quickly from County Auditor David Ludwig, who is responsible for compiling the budget and suggesting ways to make the spending plan balance when competing requests exceed funds.

'This year I haven't heard anything back," Jordan said. "There must be a lot of scouring over numbers."

Jordan said he's willing to listen to reasons why the deputies should wait for pay increases. "If they can show me that, I am fiscally conservative and I will do what is necessary. But if they didn't give raises to the deputies but agreed to pay forward the money to Cape Special Road District, that would set an ugly precedent."

The special road district is collecting its property tax for the last time this fall. In a proposed intergovernmental agreement, the district has asked that the $1.4 to $1.5 million in property tax that would otherwise be collected next fall be paid in increments throughout 2007, with regular payments continuing on into the future.

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To accommodate that request, commissioners have asked County Clerk Rodney Miller, Hudson and County highway administrator Scott Bechtold to draft a counter-proposal.

In other business, the commission decided Monday that as they implement new payroll computer software the dates for county employee paychecks will be moved from the 28th of each month to the fifth or sixth day of the month sometime early next year.

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