The Callaway County Commission held its second public forum Thursday evening in Fulton to educate voters on upcoming ballot issues.
After a poor turnout at their first forum Oct. 17 in Holts Summit, a group of about 30 engaged residents visited 54 Country to voice their opinions and get answers. The focal point of the forum was to clear up any confusion around propositions 1 and 2 on the Nov. 5 ballot.
"I could sit up here and you could believe me or not believe me, but I ain't going to tell you something that's not the truth," presiding Callaway County Commissioner Gary Jungermann said.
The forum kicked off with Jungermann showing the audience the educational video the commission created concerning propositions 1 and 2. Jungermann and Callaway County Sheriff Clay Chism fielded questions and concerns from the room afterwards.
Proposition 1 would be an ongoing tax to help pay for the construction and operation of facilities, aimed at expanding and better compensating the county's law enforcement officers. Proposition 2 is aimed directly at paying for a new justice center, expanding law enforcement facilities and renovating the existing courthouse into offices. (For more about the two propositions, visit bit.ly/2JoNUxX)
Fulton City Councilmember John Braun wanted clarity on whether or not Proposition 1 was dependent on Proposition 2 passing and vice versa. Jungermann set the record straight: Proposition 2 cannot pass without Proposition 1.
"If Proposition 1 passes, I guess that would be great. I'm going to say it's not if (Proposition 2) doesn't," Jungermann said. "It doesn't fix our problem. The only thing that we could potentially do is take our current staff and raise their salaries."
Chism said, if both propositions pass, the Callaway County Sheriff's Office could hire eight new road deputies and five new correctional officers. The sheriff said a study concluded the Callaway County Jail has six fewer correctional officers than it should with its current inmate population.
"(These propositions passing) would be a game-changer," Chism said. "I'm all about transparency, and that's the truth — having two deputies on overnight is a problem, and I'm using the word problem nicely."
Chism also addressed some common "myths and misconceptions" people have about the sheriff's office. One myth he mentioned was that the county jail is full of "weed smokers and first-time DWI offenders."
"Trust me, we are not locking people up for marijuana misdemeanors or a college kid getting his first DWI on Fourth Street. Our jail population is made up of felons and repeat offenders," Chism said.
During the forum, Jungermann said the jail's insurance company has requested to have a meeting and a tour of the jail in the next few weeks. He said he's not sure what this means, but this is the first time in his nine years as a commissioner this has happened.
"There's going to come a time when we don't get things (at the jail) the way they need to be, and we're going to get sued so much that the insurance company isn't going to cover us," Jungermann said.
Former county Auditor Rosemary Gannaway pointed out the current jail was built during a similar tumultuous time. After being threatened by the federal government for not meeting guidelines in 1988, the county passed a bond issue securing funds for the jail to be built in 1989. Gannaway said the jail was split between two locations, which did not comply with federal guidelines.
"I don't think the lawsuit had anything to do with any construction issues. But I think the overcrowding is a disaster waiting to happen," Gannaway said.
Gannaway said if the county did not build the jail on its own, the federal government would have forced them to build a new jail at a much higher price tag. Jungermann fears another lawsuit could open the possibility for the federal government to take action.
"I don't want sheriffs down the line and I don't want my kids when they grow up to be in this room having this conversation. I want to make sure we do this right and make it long term," Chism said.
County resident Tom Cashen was concerned that with the existing issues the ground has given the current jail, a larger new jail on the same site could face even more issues. Jungermann cited many of the current jail's foundation issues come from construction that was "probably not as good as it could have been."
"I've got a background (in construction) and had my own company so — not that I'm going to have time to watch over the work — I'm going to make sure the job is done right," Jungermann said.
Jungermann said if both propositions passed and raised Callaway's sales tax, the expenses for the average family in the county would increase by about $7 a month.
County resident Pam Phelps voiced her strong support of the two propositions.
"As a grandmother of eight adult grandchildren and three great-grandchildren living in the county, for just $7 a month to have me lay my head on my pillow at night and know that they're safe and help is available if they need it, that is a small price to pay. People waste so much more money than that a month," Phelps said.