OPINION: If I got a vote, I would vote yes
I’ve been a journalist for 33 years, having started my career right here at the Ozark County Times in 1989.
Back then I started out covering sports, including Gainesville volleyball … and now volleyball is back at GHS after having been dormant for three decades.
Number one, that makes me feel old. “Oh yeah I used to cover Gainesville volleyball back in the day.”
I also used to run the hand-fed letterpress here at the Times. I’d better stop before I depress myself.
I give you my history because I am doing something I’ve never done in all my years as a journalist: I’m going to give you my opinion on a local issue.
First, let me say that I don’t live in Ozark County. I live just across the state line in Arkansas, so as the old timers would say, I really don’t have a dog in this hunt.
However, I was born and raised in Ozark County, I graduated from good old Bakersfield High, and I’ve worked here most of my life and Ozark County will always be my home.
I’ve been blessed to get to travel to nearly every state and different places in the world, but you won’t find a better place to live and raise a family than right here in these hills and hollers. The people here are first class. This is a place where neighbors still help neighbors.
As a kid I watched people who I knew didn’t have any money in the bank, and who were driving an old jalopy, spend money they didn’t really have at a benefit pie auction to help their neighbor.
This county is blessed. But like many counties across the U.S., Ozark County is facing some lean times. Inflation is at a 40-year high and gas prices and groceries are way up.
I’ve covered county government pretty much my whole career, and I’ve seen elected officials ask for tax increases for a bevy of different “needs.”
Let me back up and say something I feel is important. As a conservative, I personally feel United States citizens are taxed to death. If the participants of the Boston Tea Party were alive today, there’d be a revolution for sure!
So when elected officials ask for a new tax, I usually cringe.
Now to the issue at hand.
Ozark County Commissioners voted Monday to put a half-cent sales tax on the November ballot.
As presiding commissioner John Turner said, it’s “going to be left up to the people to decide if they want to fund law enforcement in Ozark County or not.”
Remember, I don’t get to vote since I’m (as grandpa used to say) an Arkansawyer. And nine times out of ten I usually vote no on any new tax.
But if I did get to vote on this one I would vote yes, and I’m going to tell you why.
It’s about correcting something that should have been done in the first place.
There is currently a half-cent sales tax in place for law enforcement in Ozark County.
But it has NEVER EVER fully funded the operation of the jail and sheriff’s department.
It should have been one cent from the beginning. Period. And even that is not adequate.
Let me show you the simple math.
Currently, a half cent sales tax generates a little over $400,000 per year.
Can you run a jail and a fully staffed team of dispatchers, deputies, investigators, jailers, administrators, etc., and operate a fleet of patrol vehicles, maintain a facility and actively pursue a growing population of criminals in an area of about 755 square miles on $400,000 per year?
Because if you can, then you should run for sheriff. Bring your magic with you.
Sheriff Cass Martin said their bare-bones department’s payroll is about $60,000 per month.
$60,000x12 = $720,000. Already over budget! By 300k!
The truth is the sheriff’s department has had their budget supplemented every year by the county’s “general revenue” fund.
I want to stop right here and address all “Facebook warriors” who armchair quarterback and say things like “they need to take money out of such and such account and give to the sheriff.”
You can’t do that. That goes against state statute. The only fund that can supplement law enforcement is the county’s general revenue fund. And no, the sheriff’s department is not funded by property taxes, nor can it be.
The general revenue fund cannot sustain supplementing the sheriff’s department. The general revenue fund is set up for general county expenses, like maintaining and improving county property.
If you’re a regular reader of the Times then you see that criminal activity is not slowing down. In fact it’s on the upswing. County prosecutor Matt Weatherman told a group of citizens recently that drug activity is on the increase. He gave a hair-raising account of the rise of the deadly drug fentanyl in the county and even told about some local students who had an accidental exposure to the deadly drug and nearly died. This happened in Ozark County!
As citizens we don’t “need” a lot of things that big government offers, but we do need law and order. We do need these officers who risk their lives for a McDonald’s salary to keep fentanyl out of our schools and off our streets.
Like I said, I don’t live here, but I do work here, and I see this legitimate need. It’s actually a crisis. I honestly don’t know and am fearful of what might happen if this measure doesn’t pass.
Consider this: Do you spend $10,000 a year in Ozark County? Probably not. Most people don’t. But if you did spend $10,000 per year, that extra half cent would cost you only $50.
I spent more than that at a restaurant Saturday for my small family, and nobody had steak.
The other thing you should know is that Ozark County currently has a lower local sales tax rate than 81 percent of other Missouri counties.
If voters approve the half cent law enforcement tax, the state and county combined sales tax rate would be 7.225 percent. In the spirit of transparency, you pay a little more in Bakersfield (7.725 percent), Gainesville and Theodosia (8.225 percent). Some perspective here: if you go to Mountain Home to shop, you’re paying 9.85 percent.
By the way, if you do go to Mountain Home to shop, and I know many of you do, then I thank you. Thank you for helping Baxter County pave and maintain my road. Thank you for helping fund our sheriff’s department so two deputies can respond when I report a prowler.
That is another issue. I understand that there are many things you cannot get in Ozark County and restaurant choices are few. (However, there are some great places to eat and shop here!)
Ozark County needs a concentrated focus on attracting businesses. I salute county officials for recently committing to a high-speed internet project that would benefit 83 percent of county residents (not the 50 percent you might have read on Facebook).
While I’m on my soapbox, can I say I feel the voters of Ozark County missed it by not adding the local sales tax rate to internet purchases back in April? Here’s the thing with that, almost all online merchandisers are charging the tax anyway!
If you’re a big online business in California or wherever, and you get orders from Ozark County, you look up the local tax rate and add it to the state tax rate and charge the customer. Then every month you send out the sales tax you collected to the states and they disburse the local tax funds to the counties and municipalities.
But, by law, the state cannot disburse local tax to any county which is not signed on to receive those funds. So, officials believe, there’s a pile of cash in Jefferson City with Ozark County’s name on it that Ozark County will never get. That’s crazy to me!
But back to the issue at hand.
I’m not going to tell you how to vote. But I remember when I was a lad and my dad worked as a deputy for then Ozark County Sheriff Herman Pierce. Herman was a great sheriff. But times were different back then.
Do you really want to only have one deputy on call who would have to be awakened from his sleep and drive from one side of the county to the other if somebody was breaking into your house? Will it come to that? I hope not.
I encourage everyone who lives in and loves this beautiful county to just ask some simple questions about the issue. Sheriff Martin said he would sit down with anyone and share the current state of the jail and sheriff’s department.
Officials are planning educational town hall meetings. Attend them. Ask questions. Be informed. I have confidence that Ozark Countians will help solve this issue. Over and over you’ve proven that you’re caring but conservative, smart and resourceful.
You’re always eager to do the right thing.