To assist voters to make informed choices in the June 2 municipal election (rescheduled from April) and to accommodate those who wish to cast absentee ballots, the Leader will present its Voters Guide on its website. Each day, a new contested race or ballot issue will be posted at myleaderpaper.com.
Absentee voting for the June 2 election is open now. Absentee voters can cast their ballots at the Jefferson County Administration Center, 729 Maple St., Hillsboro, or by mail. The deadline to request a mail-in absentee ballot is May 20. To request a mail-in ballot or for other information concerning the election, call the Jefferson County Clerk’s Office at 636-797-5486.
Today, we focus on a tax increase proposal sought by the city of Herculaneum. Tomorrow, profiles of candidates for the Byrnes Mill Board of Alderpersons and a look at that city's ballot issue.
Herculaneum voters will be asked in the June 2 election to approve a 1 percent increase to the city’s sales tax, partly to raise police salaries.
Proposition Public Safety will require a simple majority for passage.
If approved, the city’s current sales tax rate of 8.850 cents per $1 (9.850 cents per $1 in the community improvement district that includes businesses along McNutt Road between I-55 and Commercial Boulevard) would be raised by 1 cent.
City Administrator Jim Kasten said in a period of slow sales taxes, the additional tax would generate between $510,000 and $580,000 a year.
“We were being very conservative in our estimates,” Kasten said. “If sales taxes grow at a higher rate, we’ll take in more, but we’re not counting on that.”
Kasten said the money would be used to improve police salaries – both to attract more new officers and to reward current staff.
“It’s almost impossible to keep police officers in this day and age,” he said. “St. Louis County raised its pay, and then the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office did, and now some of our surrounding cities are (raising pay) as well. We’ve struggled to keep the bare minimum of officers needed to safely protect the city.
“Over the last several years, we haven’t been able to keep eight road officers, and 10 to 12 is the ideal number. Right now, we have seven road officers plus a captain and the chief.”
The city’s current starting pay for a road officer, $38,000 a year, isn’t sufficient to attract candidates from a shrinking pool of graduates of police academies, Kasten said.
“People aren’t going into police service like they used to, so it’s a much more competitive market to attract quality candidates. We’re falling behind,” he said.
Money from the tax increase also would be used to bolster current police officers’ pay, Kasten said.
“We have officers who have been loyal and stayed with us and done a good job,” he said. “We need to do something to reward them and keep them here. Too often, we’ve hired a promising officer, trained them and given them experience, only to see them leave for higher pay elsewhere. We need to train, retain and maintain.”
Kasten said not having an adequate police force is a safety concern – both for the officers and the for the public.
“Being shorthanded is not safe, particularly at night,” Kasten said. “We’ve got an interstate highway going through town with a busy intersection. We’ve got another major highway (Hwy. 61-67, pr Commercial Boulevard) going through town. We’ve got 21 miles of streets to patrol, 4,000 residents and three school buildings. That’s a lot of public to protect, and we can’t do it with five or six officers.”
Other money from the tax would be used to help replace equipment for the Police Department and pay for the city’s dispatching services through Jefferson County 911 Dispatch and its contract with Pevely to house prisoners at that city’s jail.
“This will free up money in our general budget to use for other purposes,” Kasten said.
In addition, Kasten said, Proposition Public Safety money would be used to add as many as two full-time firefighters to the Herculaneum Fire Department. The department currently has one full-time employee.
“We won’t be hiring new employees all at once,” Kasten said. “They’ll be phased in as sales tax receipts come in.”
He said if the ballot issue passes, the city likely wouldn’t see more money until fall.
“I know nobody likes to have to pay more taxes,” Kasten said. “But it’s a question of what do you want? Do you want good, qualified police officers and firefighters to protect you? Maybe except for advice, nothing comes for free in this world.”