The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

August 3, 2012

Guest columnist, John Bartosh: The money belongs to the taxpayers

JOPLIN, Mo. — I agree that voters need to know before voting in the primary election what the lawsuit filed by Jasper County Sheriff Archie Dunn is all about.

It is somewhat unique because this is the first time in the history of Jasper County that a sheriff in office has sued his own county. It is not a surprise that the lawsuit is about money. It is the responsibility of the Jasper County Commission to manage the law enforcement sales tax proceeds of the sheriff?

The answer is simple. According to Missouri state statutes, the commission is obligated to manage and budget all funds coming into the county treasury. Whatever the source of the revenue, it is all county money. It is all taxpayer money. The sheriff’s office enjoys the benefit of $8 million annually from the county treasury.

In a column written to The Joplin Globe in 2006, Dunn admitted that there was concern about him getting a blank check, and agreed that the spending of the law enforcement sales tax funds would be governed by the oversight of the County Commission and the auditor. However, in discussions leading up to the 2010 budget, Dunn went back on that promise and publicly stated that “only he had control over the law enforcement sales tax.” A Globe editorial pointed out that it was the commissioners’ job to have oversight of those tax funds as approved by voters, and suggested the commission “step up and do its job.”

That’s what the commission has done in recent years with respect to the grant application board and the use of some of the funding for smaller agencies within the county. There is a misunderstanding about the amount of funds controlled by the LEST grant board. It only manages $160,000 of the $3.7 million collected each year.

Bill Fleischaker (Globe guest column, Aug. 2) is correct in that the County Commission started receiving complaints from law enforcement agencies that they were not receiving the benefit of the grants. Most complained that the grants were not awarded unless they benefited the sheriff’s office. In order to eliminate the conflict, the commission changed the composition of the grant board to not include any members of the sheriff’s department. Changing the composition of the board has worked. The commission has received only positive feedback from other law enforcement agencies that are now receiving the promised benefits of those grants.

Other major issues in the lawsuit include who is responsible for the cost of the needed repair to the county jail and who pays for the cost of boarding prisoners outside of the county. Dunn takes the position that it is not his responsibility and that LEST funds cannot be used to pay for those costs.

However, he promised taxpayers he would use some of the law enforcement sales tax proceeds to repair and upgrade the jail. He has had six years to do that.

Ironically, when Dunn was campaigning for the tax, he took citizens through the county jail to show its deteriorating condition and the need for additional revenue. A Joplin Globe article quoted citizens who took that tour, saying it convinced them of the department’s need for more money.

Dunn represented to the public prior to the passage of the sales tax that the funds were to be used for capital improvements to the jail, and he was correct. The Missouri LEST statute specifically provides provides that the law enforcement sales tax money can be used to make capital improvements for law enforcement facilities.

The commission has tried to address those needs by contracting for a major renovation to the jail, including the jail locking system. Only a portion of that will be funded by LEST funds. A significant portion will be funded by other revenue sources the county has.

Before 2011, the county had never incurred significant costs in boarding prisoners outside of Jasper County. When the 2011 budget was being discussed and implemented, no request was made by the sheriff’s office to the commission for funds for boarding the prisoners.

Days after the county commission changed the members of grants application board, Dunn started shipping out prisoners in large numbers. From April to December of 2011, he incurred over $200,000 in prisoner boarding costs.

In anticipation of the need to board prisoners in 2012, the Jasper County Commission allocated $300,000 of the sheriff’s budget for that purpose. Despite overcrowding, and despite the fact that he has the funds to pay for those costs, not one prisoner has been sent outside the county this year.

Dunn now threatens to cut staffing if he doesn’t get what he wants; i.e., total and continued control over taxpayer money without checks and balances. The sheriff’s budget for employee salaries is higher this year than it has ever been. The commission recognizes the importance of a full staff of county deputies.

The point is there is enough money to do it all. We don’t need to make the choice. We can board prisoners, we can repair the jail, we can add more cars to the fleet, and maintain the current number of deputies. Citizen protection will not suffer. We don’t even need a new tax or a new jail as advocated by the sheriff. We can live within our means with proper management and oversight.

John Bartosh is the presiding Jasper County commissioner.

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