Barton County Sheriff working to put tax question before voters for new jail

Sheriff thinks new tax would help with retention
Proposed Sales Tax To Help The Barton County Jail

BARTON COUNTY, Mo. – One of the first things you see when you walk into the Barton County Sheriff’s Office is what is occasionally called the “wishing well.”

Two buckets on the floor to catch water dripping from the ceiling in the lobby.

“It seems like every other day we have a plumber here or something to try to get one of our leaks fixed,” says Ramona Wright, the jail administrator.

There’s also no fire suppression system, doors to different cells don’t close, and they have to move inmates around any time they have more than a few women in the facility. Sheriff Mitchell Shaw says they’ve done maintenance, with costs coming from his budget and from the county general fund. But, there isn’t enough money to keep fixing things as they come up, or all at once.

“We are at a point where we need to go ahead and start looking at and thinking about creating a new facility. For the safety of the inmates, the safety of the staff,” says Shaw.

Shaw wants to get a half-cent sales tax, or something similar, put on ballots in November so the sheriff’s office and jail can be replaced with a new 65 bed facility. He also says that in the long run, doing that would cost less than putting money into fixing and expanding what they have.

“It would actually be amazing,” says Wright. “Because then we wouldn’t have to be calling in plumbers all the time, or electricians, or yeah, just to try to keep stuff up and running.”

He also thinks that a new revenue stream would help with their turnover rate.

“Just in the last four months, I’ve probably seen at least 60 people go,” says Wright.

The main reason being pay. Most jailers are paid $8.25 an hour, less than the current $8.60 an hour minimum wage in Missouri. Shaw says his budget for the entire sheriff’s office and jail is around 700 thousand a year, so there’s not enough money to pay more, even though he wants to.

“With the bond that’s getting passed, it would be good to be able to get our employees a good wage that they can be making,” says Shaw.

Putting the question before voters would have to be approved by the county commission.

Mitchell Shaw is running for reelection as Barton County Sheriff. His opponent is John Simpson.