Every year, Steve Ehlmann produces a spreadsheet that should make St. Louis County residents hopping mad.
Ehlmann doesn’t live in St. Louis County. He’s the county executive in St. Charles County. But the Republican is also a good-government type who doesn’t like to see taxpayers fleeced.
His spreadsheet shows county-by-county revenue totals going into and out of a state mandated fund to raise money to supplement deputy sheriffs’ pay throughout the state.
The fund was created by the Missouri Legislature in 2008 with the magnanimous purpose of raising the pay of deputy sheriffs across Missouri. It’s not a bad idea except for this:
Much of the money comes from St. Louis County, and almost none of it returns here.
Since the law’s inception, more than $8 million of the fund’s $21 million has come from St. Louis County, according to Ehlmann’s spreadsheet. The fund generates its money based on a $10 court fee attached to civil services provided by sheriff’s departments. Here’s how much of that money has come back to St. Louis County: $17,181.02.
That’s just a little bit more than two-tenths of 1 percent.
How does this happen?
The committee that decides how much money is divvied up among county sheriff’s departments is run by rural sheriffs who didn’t even recognize St. Louis County’s police department as eligible for the money until a court ruled earlier this year that for purposes of the grants, the county police department should be treated like a sheriff’s department.
That ruling came as a result of a lawsuit filed in 2013 by former county police chief Tim Fitch. It still isn’t entirely resolved.
When Fitch became chief, he was dumbfounded that the county was sending all that money to counties all over the state, when deputies in his department were dealing with pay freezes. He wasn’t alone. Ehlmann had raised the issue in a lawsuit he filed with former St. Louis County executive Charlie Dooley in 2009, but a judge had rejected it.
“I thought, you’ve got to be kidding me,” Fitch said. “We put all this money in and don’t get anything back? That doesn’t make any sense at all.”
St. Louis County residents aren’t the only ones not quite getting their fair share.
St. Louis has put $2.5 million into the fund and seen less than half of that return. Ehlmann’s St. Charles County gets back 45 percent of the amount it puts into the fund. Over in Kansas City, residents in Jackson County have received a mere 13 percent of the more than $2.5 million they have put into the deputy sheriff’s fund.
Meanwhile, it pays to be an appointed member of the Missouri Sheriff Methamphetamine Relief Task Force. That board, made up of five rural sheriffs appointed by the governor, is the body state statute says gets to determine which deputies in which counties will get a pay raise.
With one exception, the members of the MoSMART board oversee counties that get among the best bang for their taxpayers’ buck when it comes to the deputy sheriff’s supplemental fund.
There’s Chariton County Sheriff Chris Hughes, for instance. His county has put in $24,000 since the fund’s inception and received $197,000. That’s an 820 percent return on investment. It’s a similar story in Oregon County, where Sheriff George Underwood is making sure his county gets 581 percent back on its investment.
Part of the problem is that the MoSMART board sets conditions on receiving the money that favor the low-paying rural counties. This year, for example, deputies had to be making less than $35,000 to earn any supplemental pay.
That’s not the case in the St. Charles County Police Department or the St. Louis County Police Department. But it is true of several north St. Louis County municipal police departments, Ehlmann says. He’d like to see lawmakers change the law so that the money supports law enforcement, period, and money generated locally can help deal with the crime problems in the St. Louis region.
“The new statute should allow for continued collection of the fees but allow the revenue to be used to supplement salaries of police officers in the St. Louis region who can meet higher standards, and to provide additional police training,” Ehlmann says.
The state’s deputy sheriff supplemental fund should stand as a stark reminder to those lawmakers who tend to believe the canard that Missouri’s cities tend to reap an unfair windfall at the expense of rural counties.
In the case of St. Louis County residents, there’s a highway robbery taking place, and the culprits carry badges and guns.