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Funding that was intended to help counties supplement the salaries for sheriff’s deputies is being held up in the courts.
Missouri HB 2224 was signed into law last year by former Gov. Matt Blunt. Money has been piling up for the deputy fund since last August, but counties including Ray have yet to see a penny of it.
The law increased the fees sheriff’s departments charge for services such as delivering summons notices and other administrative duties. The extra money is sent to the state to go into a special fund for disbursement.
After the law was signed, St. Louis and St. Charles counties filed a lawsuit challenging the law.
The Cole County Prosecutor’s Office will represent the two counties’ arguments while the state’s Attorney General’s office will defend the statute for the state. The counties are filing the lawsuit to get a declaratory judgement of the constitutionality of the law.
Missouri Sheriff’s Association Executive Director Michael Covington said the bill has no floor or ceiling for the deputies’ salaries. He said the fee increases should be enough to create a floor of $28,000 for every deputy in the state. Covington said he is hopeful the case will be resolved and the state will prevail.
“When we worked with both legislative bodies, the research and legal advice we received and the House and the Senate received said it would stand the constitutional mustard.”
Ray County deputies were given a five percent increase across the board in January. The county’s budget for salaries increased from $387,500 to more than $406,875. Base pay for a new deputy was $23,660 but is now $24,845.
The increase was approved by Presiding Eighth Circuit Judge David Miller. State statute puts deputy increases in the hands of the presiding judge.
Ray County Commissioners all agree that all of the deputies are underpaid. Presiding Commissioner Jeff Adams said he thinks a new deputy is worth $50,000 a year. However, revenue shortfalls are causing serious stress to the county budget.
Eastern Commissioner Allen Dale sent a letter to the state requesting that a mandatory pay increase for himself not go into effect. He said he was told it would be illegal for him not to. Dale said it’s a frustrating situation.
“Those boys are underpaid,” Dale said. “But it’s hard to give a raise when you don’t have any money.”
Revenue from every county department is down so far this year. Adams said fees from the county recorder’s office are down more than $15,000 from this time last year.
Adams said the decline in the recorder’s office began last fall when an apparent economic downfall was on the horizon.
He said in 2007 fees in the recorder’s office exceeded the budgeted amount. However, last year fees came in about $15,000 below what was budgeted.