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The Fredericktown Police and Fire Departments are spreading the word about Proposition P, a sales tax of one-half of one percent for the purpose of providing revenue for the improvement of public safety in Fredericktown.

The initiative will be voted on by city residents in the Aug. 7 election.

Fredericktown Police Chief Eric Hovis stopped by the Fredericktown City Council meeting and the Fredericktown School Board meeting in June to explain and answers questions about the proposition.

Hovis said he has been going door to door for a couple of weeks explaining the proposition and has been receiving great feedback from the residents.

"It's been going great," Hovis said. "It's for city residents to vote on, but it affects everybody. I just want to inform everyone of the facts and let them form their own opinions and decisions when it comes time to vote."

Hovis said the reason Proposition P was chosen is due to issues in the past with funding being approved and then budgets being adjusted accordingly.

"In the past, not just in our county, we've had problems where there is a need and we have a fund that's not cutting it, so we do something to add funds," Hovis said. "We go to get a tax like they did back in '95 and built a jail in '96 for the 911 tax and it generated $350,000 in the first two years. (Former Madison County Sheriff) David Lewis' budget was $800,000 a year. So they can't touch the tax money, but they took that exact amount out of his operating budget keeping him at the same $800,000 even after the tax passed."

Hovis said what makes Proposition P different is it is a supplementing tax and not a supplanting tax meaning it can not be utilized for any other purpose than specified. Also, the current budget can not be robbed.

"This is a law enforcement tax, and one of the biggest things I have heard going door-to-door is people talk about the ballpark questions, which has nothing to do with us, and they ask if the money is going to go where it is supposed to go," Hovis said. "That is why we are doing the Prop P. You can look it up by statute and see it is a supplementing not a supplanting tax so they can't touch your money and they can't rob your budget. It is what it is supposed to be for." 

Hovis said one of the numerous communities that have successfully passed Proposition P is the City of Potosi.

"Chief Michael Gum explained that the majority of tax collected already from their Proposition P was not from city residents," Hovis said. "It is a sales tax, so think about how many people we have from Iron, Bollinger or Wayne Counties that just shop here and come here. I ran into people from Farmington the other night that came to shop at our Walmart because theirs is so crowded."

Hovis said the money will be used for things such as maintaining officers, equipment and a new multi-purpose facility.

"If it passes, our biggest need is to try and maintain officers," Hovis said. "When I went through the academy there were two day classes and two night classes with about 34 graduating in each one. I teach now and there is one day and one night academy and there were nine people in the night academy and 16 in the day academy. It's like nobody is wanting to be a cop anymore and those people who are in already are spoken for."

Hovis said competing for officers used to be easier before other departments passed their Proposition P.

"We used to be able to tell people 'hey if you don't like the pay down here, go to the city (St. Louis) where it pays better, but you're going to earn your money. Trust me you are not going to like what you're dealing with up there.' But now they can go next door," Hovis said. "So we've got that large problem."

Hovis said the national average for cities with a population under 10,000 is 3.5 officers per 1,000. The City of Fredericktown currently has roughly 4,000 citizens putting the city under the national average for the amount of officers it should have, 14, with the department having 11 officers, two of which remain at the schools.

"The base salary for a beginning Fredericktown Police Officer is roughly $11.76 per hour," Hovis said. "These officers can now drive to surrounding communities and make a minimum of $17 per hour; some places more. We need to keep our experienced staff in place. Training more officers is costly and time consuming."

According to Madison County Dispatch, the police department responded to 6,800 calls in 2017 which does not include walk-ins to the office and non-emergency calls. 

"I want to maintain the people that I have, keep the crew that I have, so we are going to try and set some sort of salary scale where we can keep our people," Hovis said. "We also would like to add another resource officer for sure."

Hovis said the funds would also be used to add an additional resource officer to ensure there is one at each school location to prevent school flopping.

"One of the complaints that we had at the end of the year was with the school resource officers having to leave one school to go to another, leaving that school without an officer," Hovis said. "The whole point of having a resource officer at the schools is to keep that school secure and when they have to leave to go deal with stuff it creates problems."

Hovis said the main need for the fire department is a larger facility to make it easier to store its aging fleet.

"The fire department has other things that they would like to do," Hovis said. "They are a volunteer department so salary expense isn't an issue. They want to add a couple bays to their fire house and be able to keep all of their apparatuses indoors. I don't know a lot about the fire department, but they are a great bunch of guys. They are a volunteer crew and they are great to work with. It is amazing."

Under the proposed plan, the current fire station would be remodeled and a new police station would be added creating a central location for city first responders. 

"If I am going to go out and put my name on a tax and go door-to-door ... I'm not a politician. I don't care if you are a Republican or a Democrat ... if your kids hurt or in danger I am a first responder," Hovis said. "I don't ask those questions. I am here to help. I am not interested in politicking I'm just doing my job and protecting."

Proposition P will appear on the ballot as "Shall the City of Fredericktown, Missouri impose a citywide sales tax of one-half of one percent (1/2 of 1%) for the purpose of improving the public safety of the City by providing revenue solely for the operation of the Fredericktown Police and Fire Departments, including the construction of a new Police and Fire Department facility, hiring a school resource office and enhanced public safety services?" 

For more information about Proposition P or to address any questions or concerns contact Fredericktown Police Chief Hovis at 573-783-7401

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Victoria Kemper is a reporter for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-783-3366 or at vkemper@democratnewsonline.com

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