Alderman candidate questions officials on police coverage difference as MCSO contract’s one-year anniversary nears

By Roxie Murphy, Staff Writer
Posted 1/20/21

BELLE — Kayla Bray, a 2021 Ward 2 alderman candidate, questioned Belle officials for 14 minutes on Jan. 12 about the Maries County Sheriff’s Department Belle Division’s progress …

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Alderman candidate questions officials on police coverage difference as MCSO contract’s one-year anniversary nears

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***The Maries County Sheriff's Department is now almost one year into their two-year contract to provide police services for the city of Belle. We are doing an anonymous poll to see how people feel about the coverage. We will have an article regarding these results in the Maries County Advocate and will be providing a copy of the responses to the Belle Board of Aldermen. Take the survey here.

BELLE — Kayla Bray, a 2021 Ward 2 alderman candidate, questioned Belle officials for 14 minutes on Jan. 12 about the Maries County Sheriff’s Department Belle Division’s progress since taking over the city’s police services in February 2020.

Bray asked officials several questions regarding the financial and social integrity of the police force before asking if the city has saved any money by contracting through the Maries County Sheriff’s Department Belle Division. The police contract will see it’s one-year anniversary on Feb. 1, 2021.

“I know our budget is still in the negative —,” Bray began.

“We are not near in the negative as we were,” said Alderman Jeanette Struemph, referring to the almost $40,000 Marshal Joe Turnbough’s department spent overbudget in the 2019-20 fiscal year.

“If I run quick numbers, I have a feeling if we keep paying this same amount for years on end, we are always going to be in the negative unless crime really skyrockets in town,” Bray said. “I think the way it is lined out, paying the $155,000 a year, I know we are doing just two years for now, but my concern is if we continue to do that, we are going to end up being in the negative all the time.”

Bray said the $80,000 the city wants to see in ticket revenue would have to be doubled since Maries County receives half of it.

“We had the problem with COVID that slowed up the court and we are playing catch up to that,” Mayor Steve Vogt began, as a way of explanation about the deficit in the department.

Vogt explained to Bray at a special Dec. 22 meeting that they had paid the Maries County bill a month earlier than scheduled. That meant the deficit in the police services account showed $38,000 in December. 

However, no fine revenue had come in four or five months, according to the board, because the Missouri Supreme Court had canceled all court proceedings in the state due to COVID-19. However, with the court back in session, the deficit is decreasing.

“As far as the police budget, we have gained $15,000 since last month,” Vogt said.

That brings the deficit down to $23,000 for January in the police budget.

“I’ve been going to city hall and getting budget information and different things so I can ask questions and familiarize myself — I am running for the alderman ward 2 here in April and just wanted to ask questions and familiarize myself so if I have questions now I can get them answered and if I am elected I am prepared to serve on the board with you all,” Bray had said earlier in the meeting.

She added that she asked City Clerk Frankie Hicks and Belle City Treasurer Teresa Taylor for the last 10 years of budget information.

“The $84,000 that you guys have budgeted (for fine revenue) for this year is the most that we have ever had budgeted for the police department for the past 10 years,” Bray said. “That is just quick numbers. We got one year, 2015-16, you budgeted $81,000 but made $68,000. My concern on that is if we are budgeting way out in the atmosphere somewhere, that’s way off in left field, I think when budgets come down, it needs to be closer to the ballpark, closer to what the budget has been in the last 10 years.”

She suggested the average of what the police department brought in, and if they go over that number, then it is more money in the department’s budget. But if they don’t go over, citizens don’t understand the difference between what is budgeted and what is made.

Alderman Ken Stanfield addressed her suggestions and said he never understand how much money it took to run a small town until he served on the board. By being on the board, he understands it a lot better and it was the best thing he could have done.

“I am running for it, so hopefully the people will elect me in April,” Bray said.

Her questions continued to be in line with the sheriff and marshal’s departments. Bray asked about the dispatching fee the city used to pay to Osage County and if the marshal is included under Maries County’s dispatch.

The marshal has a Maries County radio installed in his police car to receive dispatched information and is covered under the sheriff’s dispatch services.

Bray asked why the marshal is expected to present his logs for the month, but a representative from Maries County Sheriff’s Department was not expected to be present.

“My concern with that is I think they need to be here,” Bray said. “My understanding with that is they are taking over most of the policing here in town and I think that if the citizens, like me, I think whoever is in charge of Belle should have to stand up here and give a report like Joe (Turnbough, city marshal) has to and give a report on what they have done for the month, roughly.”

Lt. Scott John was present at the meeting but was absent from the previous two meetings, one due to illness and another because he was dispatched to a service call.

“I could be told several things, ‘well yeah, they are doing a good job’ or ‘no, they aren’t doing a good job,’ but I can see with my own eyes what they do or what they don’t do. But they are not here to explain it to the rest of the public that views Facebook Live through the newspaper,” Bray said. “So I would like them to be added to the agenda so somebody has to be here reporting information for the voting public.”

Vogt said they are supposed to be at the meetings. 

Alderman Sundi Jo Graham asked Vogt if Maries County Sheriff’s Department Belle Division provides a department head report. Alderman Jeanette Struemph said that is what their traffic report is for, to tell the board what they are doing.

“How does the public get that information?” Bray asked.

Vogt said they would ask someone from the Belle Division to present it. Bray said she also had questions about line items in the Belle Division’s budget.

“There’s a line item for both court fines and Maries County ticket revenue,” Bray said and asked what the difference was and why is there one for Maries County when previously it was just court fines.

Taylor answered. 

“Court fines are the Belle city ticket revenue and are any tickets that were issued in the past by the marshal’s office that still have payments coming in,” Taylor said. “I don’t think we have had any new ones for a while.”

Maries County’s fine revenue is made up of tickets issued within the city by the sheriff’s department.

“As far as reporting what is going on with the Maries County Sheriff’s Office, I am also the clerk for the city’s prosecuting attorney, so every ticket that comes in lands on my desk first,” Taylor said. “I process the tickets, send to the prosecutor and in the end, count for the funds that come in.”

Bray thanked the board for answering her questions.

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