Sales tax dedicated to jail shows steady growth

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Carroll County officials and Berryville mayor Tim McKinney expressed differing opinions about the county’s ability to afford raises for detention officers during a special meeting of the county’s quorum court on Tuesday, May 11.

McKinney is chairman of a newly formed advisory committee, which was created by County Judge Sam Barr to provide recommendations to the quorum court “for the future success of the Carroll County Detention Center.”

Barr said he formed the committee after meeting with Maj. Jerry Williams, chief deputy for the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office on Friday, May 7, about a looming staffing crisis at the detention center.

The committee met Monday, May 10, and voted unanimously to recommend a $3-an-hour raise for detention officers. Williams told the committee that the jail has been operating with a total of 20 detention officers — 10 fewer than they are allotted in the county budget. Six of those 20 have given their notice, Williams, which would leave just 14. Williams said the state requires that four detention officers be present in the jail at all times. With detention officers working 12-hour shifts, Williams said it would be virtually impossible to meet the state’s minimum standards. He said a $3 raise might be enough to persuade some of the detention officers to remain in their positions.

During the special quorum court meeting a day later, District 1 Justice of the Peace Jack Deaton said he was sympathetic to the detention officers’ situation but couldn’t support a $3 raise.

“I’m all for giving them a little more,” Deaton said. “There’s no way we can give them $3 an hour.”

“I disagree with Mr. Deaton a little bit on how much money is there and what this is going to cost,” McKinney said.

McKinney pointed out that operation of the detention center is funded by a dedicated half-cent sales tax approved by county voters in 2000. The ballot language stipulated that revenue from the tax would be “used to construct and equip a jail facility and sheriff’s department and to be used to operate the jail facility once constructed.”

McKinney said there was a surplus of almost a million dollars from the sales-tax revenue in 2020. He said there is “$2 million in that account that’s just sitting there.”

“You’ve got $2 million in the bank,” McKinney said. “You’ve got a surplus of a million dollars. … You’ve got the money. The committee thinks that these people deserve a raise — a substantial raise — and you’ve got the money to do it.”

Deaton said revenue from the sales tax increased in 2020 in part because of federal stimulus checks issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. McKinney said the tax revenue has seen steady growth along with the county’s economy.

“I’m not sitting on a gold mine with the sales tax,” county treasurer Makita Williams said later in the meeting.

Since collection of the tax began in November 2000, it has generated $34.1 million for the county. Collections from the tax have trended upward. Since the first full year of collections in 2001, annual revenue generated by the tax has increased by 76.9 percent — from $1.352 million in 2001 to $2.392 million in 2020. Much of that increase has occurred over the past eight years, with the sales-tax revenue jumping from $1.442 million in 2012 to the 2020 figure. Revenue from the tax has increased every year during that time frame.

For the first four months of 2021, the tax generated $768,440.12 — an increase of 8.4 percent from the first four months of 2020, when $708,790.92 was collected.

County treasurer Makita Williams acknowledged that there is money in the sales tax fund, but she said that doesn’t mean the county can spend it all.

“It’s not $2.5 million extra money laying around,” Williams said Wednesday. “That’s not what that is at all.”

Williams pointed out that state law requires the county to budget no more than 90 percent of its revenue.

“Today we have about $3 million in there,” Williams said. “But now I need to subtract what we are going to give the jail for the year. For the year they get $1.4 million. And then also we have to give so much to 911 and there’s $250,000 for the year. So that leaves about $1.4 million, but I keep 10 percent of that. That’s just the law.”

Williams acknowledged that the fund will be replenished by revenue coming in from the sales tax over the final eight months of the year. In 2020, the county collected $1.68 million from the tax from May through December.

Williams also pointed out that the county needs to be prudent in keeping some money back in case of emergency.

“We don’t ever know what’s going to come up,” she said. “What if the whole heating and cooling system out there goes out?”

After more than an hour of discussion at the May 11 meeting, JPs voted 10-1 to approve a $2-an-hour raise for the lowest-paid detention officers — bringing them to $14.75 an hour — along with a $500 retention bonus for those who remain on the job through August.

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