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Thayer to consider using police tax funds for payroll

Friday, August 26, 2011

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In April 2009, Thayer voters approved a half-cent city sales tax to help pay for just about anything the police department might need.

The money, which was first collected in the fall of 2009, can be used for facility maintenance, training, supplies, vehicles and weapons -- even a new jail, when enough money is generated.

In a special noontime meeting Wednesday, Aug. 24, aldermen were set to discuss using about $30,000 of the money monthly for the next three months to cover police department salaries.

Results of that meeting were unavailable at press time.

In a telephone interview Monday, Aug. 22, Thayer Police Chief David Bailey said that while he is not pleased with using $90,000 from the law enforcement fund for salaries, it is legal and he understands the city's financial dilemna.

"If that's what we have to do to keep from laying off people, then I'm OK with that," Bailey said.

Since the tax was instituted two years ago, it has generated about $200,000 annually, or about $18,000 per month.

General sales tax revenue has remained steady, at about $450,000 annually, while expenses have increased.

"We're to the point that we're stuck in a hole," City Clerk Donna Martin said Monday, Aug. 22. "We are not even breaking even."

City leaders said in 2009 that, at some point, the city may need to use the law enforcement tax money to offset deficits in other departments.

"It might even take some of the strain off our budget sometime down the road," Alderman Mike Harber said in 2009.

The police department now has 11 full-time employees.

Last year, the city reduced the police department's $250,000 annual budget by about 11 percent, keeping the money instead in general revenue.

The city gets about a third of its revenue from a one-cent general sales tax.

Besides the half-cent law enforcement sales tax, which is perpetual, the city collects a half-cent sales tax for the wastewater treatment plant upgrade. That tax expires in 2034.

The state-wide fuel tax and court fines make up the bulk of the rest of the city's revenue, although that money has specific uses. Fuel tax money, for example, can only be used for street maintenance.

For at least 10 years, the city has not increased water and sewer rates, which has led to the water department operating at a deficit.

By state law, cities cannot make money on utilities, but should not lose money.

Earlier this month, aldermen approved increasing utility deposits for new customers to deter them from leaving town without paying their utility bills.

The city is owed about $107,000 in unpaid water, sewer and electric bills, but has taken no action to collect the debt, which has accumulated since about 1996.

The city has, however, initiated some cost-saving measures, such as closing the city pool a week early because of low attendance.

Pool expenses in June were about $15,000, while it took in roughly $6,000.

Also in August, aldermen agreed to have city attorney Bill Perkins research whether the city can end its contract with a uniform services company two years early.

Aldermen also agreed to have city employees cut up an old caboose in the city park for scrap rather than taking bids from others to haul off the caboose.

The board also was set to have its annual tax levy hearing Aug. 25, which is a fraction higher than last year due to increases statewide.

See next week's South Missourian News or go online to www.areawidemedia.com, for the meeting results.



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