The Gadfly is a series of letters offering commentary on local issues and published in the Warrensburg Gazette.
I see that Sheriff Heiss has formed a "bi-partisan" task force to look into building a new jail. This group, composed of heavy hitters among local Democrats and Republicans, is supposed to examine the current admittedly inadequate facility and come up with solutions. The solution will undoubtedly be to build a new $5 million jail.
Since a part of the 1/2 cent law enforcement tax is being used to pay off the new criminal justice center housing the circuit court and other agencies, the task force will have to find another way to pay for the jail. That means a bond issue and a public vote to approve any tax to support it. The Sheriff suggests a 1/4 cent sales tax to raise $1.2 million per year; only half of that would end when the jail is paid off. Not all the task force members are excited about that prospect.
Looking ahead to the inevitable campaign for approving the jail and tax, my experience is that the opponents of a proposal can have the greatest impact by picking out onerous details and concentrating on those. For example, we defeated county-wide zoning in 1997 not so much by attacking the concept of zoning but by attacking details of the plan. The Trails Library failed in part because voters thought the city of Warrensburg was getting something out of it. So, I'm going to give some gratuitous advice to the task force.
If I were campaigning against a tax issue based on the Sheriff's current proposal, I'd go after his suggestion to continue the half of the tax to fund operation of the jail. Isn't a new jail supposed to be cheaper to operate and maintain than the current one? Doesnít he expect to get income for housing Federal prisoners? Isnít part of the current 1/2 cent sales tax supposed to fund on-going operation of the Sheriff's Department? Why should we pay an extra $600,000 per year for something we're supposedly already paying for? The task force would do well to not let this issue cloud the campaign.
The new Pettis County jail is funded by a sales tax in the city of Sedalia only and is not collected outside the city limits. It shows the type of city-county cooperation that is possible some places.
Note: since this was published, the Sheriff has asked me to be a part of the task force, thus making it "tri-partisan." For an earlier discussion of the jail, see also Gadfly 189
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