Jefferson County mulls new tax to keep deputies from working elsewhere

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JEFFERSON COUNTY, Mo. - The Jefferson County Sheriff's Department leadership says it faces dire consequences because experienced, well-trained deputies are calling it quits, one after another.

The problems are salary and benefits.

"We invest a ton of training and money to train these officers and get them up to quality officers, who you would want to respond to your house if you're a victim of a crime, and then they're being cherry-picked by agencies who have better pay or better benefits," said Captain Gary Higginbotham said, Jefferson County Sheriff's Department.

Detective Jeff Ussery said he loves his coworkers and working at the sheriff's department. He recently learned he was on the sheriff's promotion list, but the very next day he accepted a job with a different police agency.

"At some point, I have to look after the best interest of my family to seek better pay and better benefits," Ussery said. "It's going to be a significant increase for my family, especially as far as the benefits; it's going to be a big part of it."

Three people have resigned thus far this year, which means the department could be on pace to surpass last year's 15 resignations.

"North of us is killing us. We start at $37,000 and some change and you can start in St. Louis County at around $50,000."

They've put a tax proposition on the ballot in April. Prop P would cost taxpayers about $66 a year in new taxes on a $100,000 home.

Officials said the money would be used to bring wages in line with other agencies, as well as increase the size of the force, which below the national average even before the resignations.

"We're in dire consequence right now if we don't get this fixed," Higginbotham said.