MOUNT VERNON, Mo. (KSPR) - Your next opportunity to get out and vote is just days away, if you live in Missouri.
This election, safety and security is a trending topic on ballots across the Ozarks. In six counties and two cities, voters will decide on a tax that funds either law enforcement, fire departments, or ambulance districts.
We went to Lawrence County and talked to Sheriff Brad DeLay, who says his department needs the money to keep people safe.
“When people call 911, they expect an officer to be there. They pick up the phone, dial 911, within a few minutes, they expect someone to be there. Unfortunately, the reality here is that doesn’t work that way. There are many times it may take an officer 45 minutes to an hour to get from one side of the county to the other,” DeLay said.
He says the problem is that his office is understaffed, especially in the jail.
“Our jail size should have 25-30 jailers on staff. We have eight right now. So we are having a huge, huge problem with the safety of the jailers and the inmates, with having only one person on staff.”
DeLay says the jail is short-staffed, and overcrowded. He says last year alone, the county spent more than $200,000 to house inmates in other counties.
“Which was something the county had not budgeted for, had not planned on that expense being anywhere like that,” he explained.
That’s one of the reasons the half-cent law enforcement sales tax is on the ballot. But the sheriff’s office isn’t the only one that would benefit from the tax.
“They are estimating, conservatively, this could bring in $1.5 million to help the sheriff’s office, the prosecutor’s office, and the coroner’s office,” DeLay said.
No one likes the idea of paying more taxes, but we couldn’t find anyone in Mount Vernon that is against the proposition.
“The cost of things go up all the time,” said Lawrence County Voter Nick Keltner, “It’s just part of life. If we can support our local law enforcement and have them better equipped, and be safer for it, I think it’s worth it.
He says he’ll be voting ‘yes’ to support law enforcement.
“They’re saying they’re going to lay four people off. And they’re already short staffed as it is. And that’s a big problem already,” he said.
Sheriff DeLay says they’re trying to cut spending as much as possible to avoid laying people off.
“Most of our deputies now are curbing a lot of their patrolling, we’re trying to save money on gas,” he said.
But he says the cost of law enforcement is going up, and tax dollars are needed to pay the bills and keep people safe.
“The last thing we want to do is start pulling officers off the road, out of the jail, because that not only presents a danger to the officers responding to calls, but the public in general.”
Voters in Wright County and Shannon County will see a similar half-cent sales tax on the ballot this April.