Callaway proposing sales tax increase for struggling judicial system

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FULTON - Callaway County is working to fight overcrowding in its jail and an overcrowded courthouse and the solution could be two half-cent sales tax increases.

The first tax is to fund an increase of the number of deputies on patrol, investigators, corrections officers, assistant prosecutors, and support staff.

The second to fund the capital projects of construction for a new judicial center, and expanding the Callaway County jail. 

Clay Chism, the sheriff for Callaway County, said "should these issues pass it would be a real game changer for not only law enforcement, but the entire criminal justice system here in Callaway County."

Gary Jungermann, the Presiding Commissioner of Callaway County, said these propositions are important for addressing the growing need.

"We've got a judicial system here at the court house, built in 1938, that houses not only the courts but every administrative office within the county," said Jungermann. "Court dockets have grown immensely in 80 years and the issues that we have upstairs are large crowds, but worse than the large crowds and the safety concerns with those large crowds, but actually what I believe is just as bad if not worse is for victims," he said.

Jungermann said there is a huge time constraint on when these victims can finally get to court.

Chism also said his big concern in the courts is that victims are waiting too long to get justice. 

"When these cases drag on, the victims are suffering as well," Chism said. 

Due to a jury trial, they are only able to access one court room currently and the increase of dockets means they are not being seen in a timely manner. 

On Friday, the list of dockets filled a courtroom wall all the way to the ground. 

"We've outgrown our needs," said Jungermann. 

He said this needs to be addressed.

"We need to increase the amount of officers that we have. We have a lot of concerns and a lot of needs even with our jail," he said.

Jungermann said the jail's structural issues are nothing compared to their concerns of overcrowding and under-staffing. 

Chism said overcrowding has become so bad that the county has seen up to 103 inmates at a time, while the ratio is best in the mid 70's. This year the county averaged 80-85 inmates daily. 

 "I've been here in Callaway county 19 years, and just the call load has increased dramatically." Chism said. He added in the last five years that call load has increased 44%.

The sales tax was chosen as a solution due to the amount of visitors seen in Callaway county.

"The county is getting busier, the population is growing and it's not only our population," he said. 

Chism said having three major highways crossing the county bring many arrests from outside. 

"Last year in the Callaway county jail, 37% of the arrested subjects were not Callaway County residents," he said. "So that goes hand in hand with what we are saying about. Yes, we are local law enforcement, but the simple fact is we have a criminal element coming in from outside."

Jungermann said each tax increase will bring in revenue of $1.8 million to $1.9 million per year for the proposals. The full project is estimated to cost $30 million and could take 3-5 years if passed. 

The two proposed sales taxes are going to be appearing on the November 5th ballot.