Commissioners React To Sheriff's Open Letter

Submitted By 
The Benton County 
Recently the Benton County Sheriff provided an article for the Benton County Enterprise regarding the status of the Sheriff’s Department and staff shortages.  He stated that the County Commissioners have not provided him with the funds he needs to operate his Department.  He also stated that the Commission is presented with the minimum amount of funds that he needs and the Commission then reduces that request making it difficult for him to operate.  Here are some facts regarding that statement.
The Sheriff assumed office in January 2017.  Since that time his budget has grown by 23% or approximately $338,000.  Over the past two years, the Department has made the following upgrades:
1. Eight (8) new patrol vehicles were purchased including $12,000 per unit to install upgrades per his specifications;
2. He has purchased fifteen (15) new auto and semi-automatic weapons;
3. He has purchased fifteen (15) new shotguns;
4. He has purchased twenty-one (21) new Glock handguns;
5. He has upgraded to a new version of bullet proof vests;
6. And, all of his patrol vehicles have been upgraded with new GPS mapping equipment including unit tracking capability.  This allows all vehicles to be identified at a specific location so a Deputy can summon and receive assistance, if necessary.
In November 2017, county residents approved a tax increase for the Sheriff’s Department that permitted the addition of one (1) new deputy position, assume the salary of another deputy position and added an additional jailer position.  It also provided additional funds for the prisoner board.  As of this date, the Department has eighteen (18) authorized deputy positions and ten (10) jailer positions.  Payroll records show that he has three (3) vacant Deputy positions and has two (2) Deputies still in training.  His press release seemed to indicate that he was short five (5) Deputies.  Our information indicates that the Sheriff’s Department has never been fully staffed.
Regarding the lack of adequate pay, the State of Missouri, through the Deputy Salary Supplementation Fund which was authorized in 2008, provides funds state-wide to ensure all Deputies earn $30,000 per year.  For the current year, Benton County is projected to receive $52,000 from this grant program.  Currently, seventy-seven (77) counties are receiving funds from this program to raise the salaries of entry-level Deputies and supplement the salary of all Deputies making less-than $42,000 per year.  Every Deputy in Benton County is receiving this supplemental salary increase.  The lowest paid Deputy makes $30,000 per year and the highest paid Deputy makes $39,028 per year.  The average salary for all Deputies is $31,742.  The Sheriff’s Department has received every dollar of requested and eligible grant funds.  Currently, Deputy salaries are greater than most other county employees.
Benton County is not alone regarding tax revenues to support their Sheriff’s Departments and all other county funding needs.  Our tax base is limited by the value of the property in the County and the number of businesses that operate in the County.  Large, highly industrialized counties enjoy a wider range of revenue opportunity.  We are dependent upon our residents and the visitors that the lake area draws to provide sales tax revenue.  Also, all property owners pay a real and personal property tax.  It is our hope that the completion of the new jail will provide the County additional income with the capacity to provide housing for prisoners from other, over-crowded jails.  This new income will provide the resources desired to improve the Deputy and Jailer staffing needs.
Benton County has almost ninety (90) employees and every single employee deserves a salary increase, but the revenue available limits our ability to pay each employee a compensation that is as good as or better than other government agencies.  Our fringe benefit package is also limited by available resources.  We stretch our dollars as far as feasible with the intent of providing the best service possible with limited resources.