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Thayer police paid with special tax fund

Thursday, January 19, 2012

(Photo)
In July 2008, only months after then Thayer Mayor Merle Williams, left, gave the oath of office to Thayer Police Chief David Bailey, Bailey began a campaign seeking a half-cent law enforcement sales tax to build a new judicial center and jail. The city now is using the fund for police salaries, offsetting expenses for its ailing general fund. File Photo [Order this photo]
In closed session Jan. 10, Thayer aldermen decided to again pay police officers' wages with funds from a 2009 voter-approved half-cent law enforcement sales tax.

The board returned from closed session and unanimously approved "the police issue," without stating in open session the actual issue.

Thayer Police Department Lt. Josh McDaniel, who was videotaping the meeting for city records, said he heard only the word "Police," and did not learn until later the nature of the motion.

The meeting minutes reveal city officials plan on using as much of the fund as is necessary to pay the salaries of five of the department's 11 officers "to help offset" the department's operational expenses. A dollar amount was not specified.

Before the sales tax was passed 60/40 in April 2009, police wages were paid from the city's general fund. Thayer Mayor Earl "Buddy" Rogers said at several meetings in 2011 that city revenue has declined.

In August 2011, the board first discussed paying wages from the law enforcement sales tax fund, which generates about $18,000 per month. The board then unanimously approved taking up to $30,000 from the fund for salaries, and agreed to revisit the issue in three months.

The day after the Jan. 10 meeting, Thayer Police Chief David Bailey said he was unaware the board intended to discuss using part of the fund again for wages. Bailey, who campaigned for the tax, said he intended to set aside money from the tax to eventually build a law enforcement center and jail.

The 2009 ballot called for the tax "for law enforcement purposes, including without limitation improvements of buildings; purchases and maintenance of equipment, uniforms, and supplies of all sorts; and operations of the police department."

Bailey said the city board decides how the money is to be spent.

According to the Jan. 10 board minutes, "The salaries of the police department are paid from the general fund. Paying the salaries from the fund (law enforcement sales tax) will be reviewed every three months in order to ensure that the balance of money in the police department stays in a range that will keep the police department in good running order. At the current time, the police department account has a cash balance of $109,901.67. Even with paying these salaries, the account should still continue to maintain a good operating balance."

Oregon County Sheriff George Underwood, who plans to pursue a similar law enforcement sales tax ballot issue in August, said it must be spelled out beforehand who has oversight over the fund. If left to those outside of law enforcement, the tax can end up supplementing the general fund, which is not necessarily the will of voters, he said.

Underwood said a county half-cent sales tax would generate about $419,000 a year, if consumer purchases remain at the current level.

"Things are tight for everybody right now," Underwood said of the economic downturn.

The county department has four deputies, including Chief Deputy Eric King. Underwood said he is trying now to work out an arrangement with the city of Alton to share the cost of dispatchers.

"I don't have the money now for a daytime dispatcher," Underwood said.

In a followup interview Jan. 17, Thayer City Clerk Donna Martin said the latest approval to use the fund for salaries will pay the wages of the four lowest-paid officers and one dispatcher.

Martin said a dollar figure is not possible as many variables, such as overtime and holiday pay, will affect the final figure.

In August, the board agreed to use up to $30,000, which turned out to be less, although Martin did not have the figure readily available at press time.

"We hope to not take that much," Martin said. "The main objective is to let that account grow."

Martin said the police department still will have enough money to buy what it needs. The city did not use any of the fund for salaries until it grew to more than $100,000, she said.

Since the board first discussed taking the tax money for salaries, the department lost a couple officers, Martin said, and less money will be required for salaries.

In October 2011, the city fired Assistant Police Chief Michael Bunting, who grossed about $35,000 annually. Bunting has filed a civil suit against the city, seeking reinstatement to his position, plus back pay.



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