citizens committee will be formed to discuss the future sales tax structure in the county, the Platte County Commission says.
Ron Schieber, presiding county commissioner, on Monday said that Sandra Thomas, former county auditor, has been selected by the county commission to lead the citizens committee on the topic.
The county’s half cent parks/stormwater tax sunsets at the end of 2020. County commissioners have indicated they would prefer to cut the amount of the half cent tax for parks and direct part of a future sales tax to law enforcement operations.
In a discussion on the Facebook page of David Park, who has announced as a 2020 candidate for the second district county commission post that John Elliott currently holds, Elliott said there will not be a jail tax on the ballot in 2020. A proposed half cent sales tax for a new and considerably larger county jail was soundly defeated by voters in April, with 62 percent against to only 38 percent in favor.
In the Facebook discussion, Elliott said in 2020 there will be two questions on the ballot: a parks sales tax renewal and a law enforcement operations sales tax. “Combined they (those two taxes) will equal the current half cent,” Elliott wrote. Elliott went on to say “a blue ribbon citizens group is being formed to review the 10 year budgets of parks, storm water, sheriff, prosecutor and courts to determine the correct allocation of the half cent.”
A press release issued by the county commission on Monday said the committee will be called the Platte County Sales Tax Structure Advisory Committee. The press release says “how to address funding for the continued maintenance and operation of the county’s parks, stormwater, trails and community centers is on the table along with addressing long-term needs of the sheriff’s department, prosecutor’s office and the courts.”
Who will serve on the committee that will be led by Thomas, who served as county auditor from 1995 to 2006? Apparently that is still being determined by county commissioners.
In the press release, Schieber said: “I’m very glad that our county has vested citizens interested in tackling this extremely important issue. The members of the citizen’s advisory committee are being finalized soon. They will be analyzing 10-year budgets from the parks department, sheriff’s department, prosecutor’s office and our courts as well as much needed stormwater funding to make a long-term tax structure recommendation. It makes sense to match a 10-year planning process with a 10-year tax structure recommendation.”
Also in the press release, Elliott is quoted as saying: “Platte County has a dedicated tax for roads and bridges and for parks and stormwater, but for the county’s mission-critical functions in law enforcement there is no dedicated funding source.
They have always been funded out of general revenue. While we have made this work, rising violent crime and expenses, and increasing personnel and healthcare costs have made this untenable. The continuing low-paying wages for law enforcement and prosecutor’s personnel has cost taxpayers in significant turnover and ongoing staff shortages, 20 openings at the present time. In addition, it is estimated that we will need to add an additional court within 10 years to keep pace with the increasing court cases in our county.”
Sheriff Mark Owen shared in a recent public meeting that his deputy starting salaries are $5,000 less annually than an assistant manager position at a local convenience gas station.
“Recruiting and then retaining quality personnel after we have invested significant man hours and resources into training them is tough on our bottom line and on morale when we see them leave for other agencies,” Sheriff Owen said.
Prosecuting Attorney Eric Zahnd said in the press release: “When I started as prosecutor 16 years ago, we sometimes went an entire year without recording a single murder in the county. Today, we have a half-dozen murder defendants awaiting trial. A decade ago, we filed about 350 felonies a year; in 2018, we filed more than 650. Today’s criminal cases require prosecutors with a high skill set to ensure that crime victims obtain justice and our community remains safe.”
Thomas stated: “I am looking forward to leading this team, speaking with county representatives, digging into the long-term budgets, and making recommendations that will set up our county for long-term success.”
Dagmar Wood, first district county commissioner, said in the distributed press release: “Over the 20-year life of the parks and stormwater tax, approximately $138 million will have been invested in building and maintaining the county’s parks and stormwater system. County parks in that time have expanded from just one park to five parks, two community centers and over 30 miles of trails. The investment in the county’s parks system has fundamentally contributed to our quality of life in Platte County. Finding partners to continue the progress that’s been made within our parks system will be even more important as we move forward.”
The county commission said meetings of the committee will be open to the public.
The commissioners said in the press release that “select officeholders and department heads invited to present information to the advisory group as needed.”