The People's Tribune

Sheriff Korte Discusses Proposed Sales Tax Increase

In an interview with the Tribune, Pike County Sheriff Stephen Korte discussed the proposed sales tax increase and how the department would use it. If the one-half of one percent increase passes next Tuesday, Sheriff Korte hopes to make the department more competitive in the region.

The Pike County jail shut down temporarily last year due to the impact of COVID-19 on an already shorthanded staff.

Korte explained the then hourly wage of $11.50 an hour couldn’t compete with neighboring counties. Since the new year, that wage was increased to $13.50 and the jail is once again operational, and fully staffed.

“With the wage increase, we were able to hire employees who live in Bowling Green but traveled to work in Audrain County,” Sheriff Korte explained.  “There are people who live in the area and want to work here, but they go where the pay is.”

The previous situation with the jail is currently being echoed in the law enforcement side of the department. Korte explained that the retention rate for deputies is also difficult because their current wage isn’t competitive with other police departments in the area and greater St. Louis region.

Pike County deputies currently start at $15.50 an hour.

One deputy plans to return to his hometown in Palmyra, Missouri for a better housing situation and higher pay.

According to Korte, wage competitiveness is a problem that keeps the department from bringing on new deputies or sending a promising jailer to the academy.  

The department’s retention is only amplified by officers being out due to on-duty injuries and retirements.

“I’m only able to have one deputy on the road in the day and two at night,” Korte said. “What a lot of people forget about is just how big Pike County is. Answering calls can take a deputy across the county which takes time. That doesn’t count the amount of time they’re working on the required paperwork which takes them off the road.”

To become more competitive and provide more deputies on the road at a time, Korte says he would utilize the revenue from a sales tax increase to hire four more deputies and hopefully increase their wages.

Currently, the department is allotted 10 officers; however, one deputy works full time with the Bowling Green School District as the resource officer. With retirements, injuries, and another leaving, the department is down to only six deputies to cover the 685 square miles of Pike County.

It’s a considerable amount of work considering that in 2020 deputies answered just over 8,000 calls for service.

The Department received some criticism for purchasing two new vehicles last year with an influx of money left over from COVID-19 funding. Some residents thought that money should go towards raises for officers, but Korte explained that he can’t hire new officers based on that factor.

“There are no guaranteed raises,” he previously stated. “Raises happen at the beginning of the budget year if there is enough projected revenue for the commission to grant them.”

“Current revenues can’t keep up with expenses.” He pointed out how the budget has remained relatively close over the past 10 years whereas expenditures have continued to rise.

Some unforeseen expenditures come in the form of building maintenance at the Pike County Jail. “When things break, we fix them,” he explained.  “The building is 27 years old and it’s happening more frequently.”

According to Korte, the out-of-pocket expenses for employee medical benefits are another factor that often comes into play for the retention of both deputies and jail staff.

As far as medical benefits, since 2019, county employees have had 2 options. “Plan A is employee pays nothing out of their paycheck, but even after meeting the deductible the employee has to pay 20% of all costs,” he explained last December. “Plan B costs the employee $148 a month and has a standard deductible and max out of pocket. To add a spouse or children to the plan would cost almost more than they are paid. From 2008 thru 2020 the pay for Jailers and Deputies has only increased by $2 an hour, $9.50 to $11.50 and $13.50 to $15.50 respectively. For that same time period, the minimum wage has increased by $2.80 an hour and $3.65 come January first.” (Effective as of 2021, jailers now make $13.50).

“The outcome of this ballot,” Sheriff Korte started. “Whether the proposition passes or not, will have an impact on law enforcement in the county for years to come.”

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