Voters to decide county sales tax issue

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Barry County voters are being asked to approve a one-eighth of a cent sales tax on Tuesday, April 2. If the measure passes, it would be the first sales tax increase since 1993 when voters approved the original half-cent sales tax that replaced the county property tax.

Barry County Presiding Commissioner Cherry Warren says the tax increase is necessary to avoid more severe cuts to county services. In particular, additional budget reductions would negatively impact law enforcement and the county prosecutor's office.

"This is not a threat; it's just a fact," said Warren. "We run a tight ship. We don't have too many places left to cut."

The proposed one-eighth of a cent sales tax increase is expected to generate an additional $400,000 in revenue for the county, according to County Treasurer Lois Lowe.

The current plan would use part of the increased funding to hire an additional full-time prosecutor, make the part-time investigator's position a full-time post and add another clerical person to the prosecutor's staff.

"Obviously, we'd hope with one more prosecutor, we'd have more people available for victims and witnesses," said Barry County Prosecutor Johnnie Cox. "It will also give us more people to be available to handle cases in court, get charges filed more quickly and reduce our backlog."

In a survey of same-sized counties across the state, Barry County had fewer prosecutors than any other county its size. Stone County has one prosecutor and three assistants, and Lawrence County has two full-time prosecutors and one part-time prosecutor.

For the last several years, Barry County has also led the 39th Judicial Circuit, which includes Barry, Stone and Lawrence counties, in the number of charges filed. According to statistics compiled by the prosecutor's office, Barry County has seen a 21 percent increase in charges over the last three years.

"We're just trying to get my office on par with the counties around us," said Cox.

In addition to increasing staff for the prosecutor, the increase in sales tax money would be used to add back the three deputy positions that were cut in 2012 and to replace high mileage vehicles.

"Our plan is to take this money and use it wisely and efficiently," said Cox. "We're going to continue serving the folks of Barry County whether it passes or not.

"It would be an important boost to law enforcement and my office and get us up to the level where we're not falling behind other counties," added Cox. "Nobody likes taxes, but a tax like this (a sales tax) makes sure everybody, even the criminals, are paying their fair share."

Based on county projections, consumers shopping in Barry County would pay an additional $12.50 per $10,000 spent if the one-eighth of a cent sales tax passes.

"We've done more with less for several years now and we'll keep doing that," Cox said, "but this tax would make a big difference. If it doesn't pass, coming into 2014, there's likely to be further cuts in the budget and the biggest area of expense is law enforcement."

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