Planning begins for dedicated law enforcement tax in Platte County

Platte County Commissioners have made a formal announcement on a long-expected plan to create a dedicated law enforcement tax.

In a press release issued Monday, July 30, presiding commissioner Ron Schieber said as part of long-term planning and budgeting the commission is putting together a team to put the county into position for future success. The issue will be discussed at the Monday, Aug. 6 administrative session.

“For the past four years I have talked about realigning the tax structure in Platte County to match the county’s needs and priorities,” Schieber said in the release. “I promised to make the safety of our kids and families the top priority.”

The release cites U.S. Census Bureau statistics listing Platte County as the fastest-growing county in Missouri. With that population increase, there has been an increase in more serious crimes — a correlation prosecuting attorney Eric Zahnd has discussed publicly for the last several years.

“One of the few down sides of living in a vibrant and growing community like Platte County is that crime increases as the population rises,” Zahnd said.

During his first 12 years as prosecutor, Zahnd said, there were no shootings involving drug deals in Platte County. But, in the last few years there have been six, with three ending in death.

“Platte County is the safest in the metro, but we need to continue to dedicate appropriate resources to law enforcement to keep it that way,” he said.

District commissioners John Elliott and Dagmar Wood joined the commission in 2017, both naming law enforcement as a top priority. The primary target of this prioritization has been the county’s dedicated parks, recreation and stormwater abatement sales tax. First approved by voters in 2000 for 10 years and then renewed for 10 more, attempts to realign the tax have been launched a few times over the last eight years. However, as the half-cent tax was approved by voters, attempting to realign the tax without another public vote was deemed legally problematic. The tax would be eligible for renewal by public vote again next year.

The release states that “Platte County has dedicated funding sources for parks and roads, but not public safety. According to the county commission, a dedicated sales tax for law enforcement is the first step in that realignment.”

Elliott, in the release, said the sheriff’s department has been funded through the general fund and through leasing beds in the Platte County Detention Center to outside entities.

“We need dedicated funding for the sheriff’s department, including jail operations and the housing of a growing inmate population, which is a constitutional requirement of the sheriff,” Elliott said. “These are the first steps in realigning the county’s sales tax structure to properly reflect law enforcement as a core county function.”

With an increase in population and crime, there has been a corresponding increase in the detention population at the county detention center, which was built with 153 beds in 1998.

Sheriff Mark Owen, who was also quoted in the release, said a suspect arrested anywhere in Platte County, including within Kansas City limits, is turned over and housed in the detention center in Platte City.

“The increase in the number of crimes along with the increasing seriousness of these crimes that comes with lengthy stays has contributed to the growing population issues in our jail,” Owen said.

The facility has hit peak capacity several times over the last five to six years, and in 2013 a study recommended the construction of a new 300-350 bed facility at a cost of $20 million. These findings were questioned, however, and in 2014, a past commission appointed citizens to lead a jail committee, investigating the need for an expanded detention facility.

After weeks of sometimes-contentious meetings, the committee found there was no immediate need for expansion but suggested should the need arise the county should renovate the basement of the current facility — dubbed the “futures” area — into a usable jail expansion. 

Wood served on the jail committee.

“Four years ago in order to address the increasing jail population, we recommended finishing out futures,” Wood said in the release. “It was a viable short-term solution then, and had that been done, we would have a couple more years to address the growing population issue.”

According to the release, the commission will now be considering expansion of the detention center and prosecuting attorney’s physical offices.