I attended the Camden County Republican Club meeting on the evening of July 20, 2021 to hear Sheriff Helms speak in favor of the ¼ % sales tax increase for the Camden County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO). The next morning, I attended the Camdenton Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting where Sheriff Helms would be presenting again on the same topic.
I had to pay $20 and mail a check in advance to attend for being a non-member, but I thought it would be worthwhile since I wanted to see how Helms would present this tax increase to a bunch of business owners. You would expect that a Chamber of Commerce would be a tough crowd to convince to increase a sales tax.
I’m not a breakfast person, so I tried to drink as much coffee as possible to get my money’s worth. It was kind of funny because my name tag displayed “amongthedogwoods” as my business! (As a side note, my Spellcheck keeps trying to change “amongthedogwoods” to “wrongheadedness”. That’s just wrong.)
Sheriff Helms had a Powerpoint presentation at this event so I think it helped him to present in a more methodical way than at the CCRC the night before. He had a few uniformed deputies sitting in front with him and I think they were higher ranking department members. Sheriff Helms did NOT start off the presentation by having a bunch of the CCSO employees stand up so everyone could applaud them.
I actually have a copy of the presentation so I can show you what he presented and what he said. To start off, some voters might not realize that the current LEST started out as a ½ % sales tax in 1998 that was intended to build a new jail. ¼ % of that tax sunsetted (“went sunset”? Heck, I don’t know.) and the remaining ¼ % remains as the current LEST that is shared by the CCSO, Prosecutor’s Office, and the Juvenile Facility.
Sheriff Helms explained that this sales tax increase is intended solely for CCSO and will be used to raise the salaries of his employees. The current salary is $14.75/hr for deputies and $14/hr. for jailers and dispatchers. Helms said that 60% of his employees are making these wages.
Sheriff Helms acknowledged that approximately $70,000,000 is coming through the Camden County budget but he explained that a lot of that money is pass-through money. He said that the narcotics group is an example of pass-through money in his budget. He also mentioned that he thinks people are confused about the budget.
Sheriff Helms stressed that this sales tax proposal is exclusively for the CCSO and is intended to hire and equip new deputies, dispatchers, and corrections officers. He then told the same dispatcher story from the previous night’s meeting. He reiterated that the Commission cannot take money from the Sheriff budget to make up for the sales tax. He said the CCSO budget can only be lowered if county revenue goes down. He reassured everyone that the Auditor and the Commission approve all of his purchases.
Helms compared Camden County deputy pay to deputy pay for surrounding counties to show how poor the pay was in comparison:
He again explained that Missouri’s supplemental deputy fund did not pay overtime and pension based on the increased pay rate. Sheriff Helms said the biggest portion of the sales tax increase will be paid by tourists. He doesn’t believe the 60% revenue surge will continue through the next 36 months and estimated the revenue from this sales tax increase at between $1,900,000 and $2,100,000. At the meeting the night before, he had estimated the revenue at $2,100,000 to $2,400,000.
Sheriff Helms explained how the three phases of this increase would work. This was a much better performance than at the CCRC meeting and I think the slides really helped to make this clearer. His goal for deputy salaries is $19.25/hr.
In Phase One, 10 new deputies will be hired and the deputy salary will be raised. Dispatch equipment will be updated. The Sheriff estimated this cost at $2,118,210.50.
In Phase Two, 2 new deputies will be hired and there will be raises for detention staff, dispatchers, and clerical staff. The Sheriff estimated this cost at $1,822,030.50:
In Phase Three, 2 more deputies would be hired and the existing pay raises would be sustained. This would cost $2,153,610.50:
Sheriff Helms estimated a deputy costs $54,790 for salary and benefits. It costs $74,720 to equip a deputy with a vehicle and all of the associated equipment.
Sheriff Helms then explained that he didn’t want to throw anyone under the bus (in my experience, this is usually followed by throwing someone under the nearest bus), but the Commission has not supported his efforts to get salary increases for the deputies. The commissioners haven’t been responsive to his efforts to secure better pay for his personnel. He placed the blame for having to seek a sales tax increase on the Commission. He even said that one Commissioner who he wouldn’t name thought he should try for a 1% sales tax increase! Let’s let that idea sink in.
Sheriff Helms brought up the looming danger of the Mongols funeral scheduled for the weekend again, but this time he reassured the Chamber of Commerce members that “of course”, his department had already asked for officers from nearby agencies and MHP through mutual aid channels. Everyone seemed reassured by this. He made it sound like they had it under control.
Helms stated that his department was out of money for overtime and told the story again about the deputy who can’t spend Comp Time at Walmart. As mentioned in my article about the CCRC presentation, the Sheriff can always ask the Commission for more overtime money from county revenue.
He then asked for questions from the audience and received just one question. This seemed like a pretty easy question. One of the members asked Helms how many deputies he had out on patrol. Helms responded that they had three deputies and a supervisor on each shift.
As he continued to answer, Sheriff Helms wasn’t sure how many total deputies his department has assigned to patrol. He asked one of his subordinates how many deputies were on patrol and the subordinate responded that they had about 32 deputies on patrol.
I was really caught off guard by this because the previous night, Sheriff Helms had been pretty confident at the CCRC meeting that he had 38 deputies on patrol.
When you only have 70 POST-certified deputies on your entire department…..
And you’re asking for a couple million dollars from the voters because you don’t have enough deputies……
You should probably know how many deputies your organization is currently deploying out on patrol.
After that, the meeting finished up and I headed out because I had a little target practice on my late morning schedule.
An interesting thing I realized when I was putting this article together was that according to the Sheriff’s slides, the total Phase One cost is $2,118,000. Phase One would consist of hiring and equipping 10 new deputies and raising the salaries of all of the CCSO deputies. On the Deputy Cost slide, the Sheriff estimates the total cost of hiring and equipping the 10 deputies at $1,355,000. Simple math (2,118,000 minus 1,355,000) would then tell us that all of the deputy salaries could be raised to $19.25 for an annual expense of $763,000! This is by the Sheriff’s own calculations.
Now, I usually try to be reasonably neutral on all of these topics, but regardless of which side of the sales tax increase proposal you’re on, this is just infuriating.
So the big question would be: Why hasn’t this already been done? Camden County is currently on pace to exceed projected revenue and I estimate that surplus revenue for this year alone will be in the range of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000. Camden County also maintains a $5,000,000 reserve that is intended for use in emergencies. We spent approximately $763,000 for the pandemic video systems alone for the court system last year.
The Sheriff himself puts the blame on the Commission for not raising the salaries of our CCSO deputies over the past four years.
So what the heck is going on? Who created this emergency? Because this is an emergency, right? It sure seems like it because we have the Sheriff driving all over the county running a sales tax increase roadshow and trying his best to convince voters that things are desperate.
Suddenly we’re told we have to raise taxes and our Sheriff’s Department is barely hanging on because their wages are so low and they can’t get any one to apply to become a deputy? Who wouldn’t spend $763,000 to fix this problem? It seems like a no-brainer.
Who created this emergency? Just ask the Sheriff.
Who was asleep at the wheel while this situation snowballed? Just ask the Sheriff.
This didn’t happen overnight. The Sheriff said he has been sounding the alarm on this for four years. Who had the authority to do right by our deputies and give them raises, but refused? Who could have made it happen, but shirked his responsibilities, instead dumping the hard decisions off onto the voters?