Cedar County Sheriff Leon Dwerlkotte hosted a town hall meeting in the El Dorado Springs Community Center on Friday, July 26, attended by about a dozen citizens.
Cedar County Prosecuting Attorney Rick Pohlsander and El Dorado Springs Police Chief Jarrod Schiereck were present to answer any questions about law enforcement from their perspective.
The sheriff opened the meeting telling the audience, “I think you have a good county. My deputies and I are trying to make it better.”
In the first item on his agenda, the sheriff told the crowd that patrol cars are the deputies’ offices. He said of the aging fleet of patrol cars, “The commissioners want me to park them and ask for permission to fix them if they break down.”
He said that three months into his term, “I have already spent $30.20 more than my budget.”
He said, “We need the money to buy new cars. The deputies don’t expect new cars. They just need something to get around. We’ll get around. I’ve jokingly said we’ll use mopeds and horses.”
The Sun checked with Cedar County Clerk Peggy Kenney, who is the county’s chief budget officer. She said that the sheriff’s budget was $65,000 in the red when he took office. At the end of June his budget was $166,000 in the red and getting bigger because he has already spent his entire budget for the year in some areas and the budgeted funds have not yet been received by the county.
The sheriff’s budget is $923,300 per year. His office gets 100% of the LEST (Law Enforcement Sales Tax) money (one half cent sales tax which amounts to about $500,000 per year. She said that the prosecutor, the coroner and the court system used to be funded out of the LEST money, but now it goes 100% to the sheriff. She also said that her office does all the paperwork for the business side of the sheriff’s office (not the law side) writing payroll checks and such, at no charge to the sheriff’s fund. She said that other counties charge an administrative fee for that service, but her office bears that cost in Cedar County.
She said the sheriff’s fund gets 100% of the revenue from four contracts: the $48,600 Citizens Memorial Hospsital pays his office to dispatch ambulances and the contracts for his office to patrol the city of Stockton, Stockton Lake (Corps of Engineers) and the Stockton School.
The issue with repairs on the patrol cars is that he has spent all the money the commissioners approved. He spent $5,000 to repair a patrol car. The sheriff then checked to see how much he could get on a trade in and was told that the dealer would allow him $1,000 for anything he could drive in. It doesn’t make sense to spend $5,000 repairing a car worth $1,000.
After an office holder has spent all the funds they have been budgeted, then they must get pre-approval from the commission to spend more money. That’s what the commission has asked the sheriff to do – check with them before spending any more money on repairs so they can see if the vehicle is worth fixing or needs to be replaced.
The Sun spoke with Cedar County Northern Associate Commissioner Don Boultinghouse. He agreed with Ms. Kenney’s comments. He said that the commission told the sheriff it was OK to do minor repairs, like brakes, on vehicles without prior approval, but they want to be consulted before a major repair like a transmission. Boultinghouse said, “We did not tell him to park patrol cars.” He said the commissioners may decide to replace a car that is not worth fixing.
Boultinghouse said, “We want to work with him. We want the sheriff’s office to work smoothly. We want the citizens to be protected. But our resources and our funds are limited. We have to be careful. We can’t keep spending money we don’t have.”
Boultinghouse and Mrs. Kenney mentioned one incident. The sheriff, after he was over budget, spent $300 per vehicle to put brush guards on the Chargers he and his chief deputy are driving. Boultinghouse said, “It’s not a big expense, but it is if you are over budget already.”
At the town hall meeting, Sheriff Dwerlkotte talked about the Leads on Line program implemented by his office. Salvage yards are required to report their purchases to the computer program which tries to match those purchases to reported thefts. He said it has already solved three burglaries.
The sheriff said the program allows citizens to enter their property on line so the property is already identified in case it is stolen.
He encouraged citizens to contact his office if they are going to be on vacation so his officers can check on their property while they are gone.
A citizen asked if the sheriff has enough employees to staff the new jail which is under construction.
Sheriff Dwerlkotte said a study showed it would take 7.2 people to staff the jail. He said his question is whether that means 7.2 people per shift. He said, “If it does, we should be able to handle it.”
A citizen asked how many deputies the sheriff has. He said he has 10 plus the chief deputy.
Earlier the sheriff had told the group that he saw subcontractors walking off the job at the new Cedar County detention center and that they had told him they were leaving because they had not been paid. Wayne Yakel, who is a painting contractor for the jail, said he is being paid and told the sheriff, “The subs may not be performing as the general contractor thinks they should.”
The Sun checked Monday with the Cedar County Clerk and the Cedar County Commission and learned that indeed the general contractor had fired the subcontractors and hired replacements.
Sheriff Dwerlkotte told the group that Dade County wants to contract for 12 prisoner beds in the new jail.
The sheriff said he is over budget “in four spots.”
• He said the county spent $9,332 for new narrow band radios then he learned that the radios the county had could have been reprogrammed for narrow band.
• He said he is $30.20 over budget on vehicle maintenance.
• He said he sent back some uniforms that wouldn’t work and got a $2,600 refund. “They still say I am over budget.” Cedar County Clerk Kenney said that the refund was credited to the sheriff’s fund but that he is still over budget.
The sheriff could not remember the 4th over budget area.
Cindy Louderback, who was in the audience, said, “Vernon County is using prisoners for clean-up. Can you?”
The sheriff said it would cost too much to have armed guards, uniforms and safety helmets, etc. for the prisoners.
Mrs. Louderback said she thinks people in the community “are willing to step up. We need to know the needs.” She said, “Cameras can make or break a case.” She said that a local club of which she was formerly a member bought cameras for all the El Dorado Springs police officers.
She said, “I’ve seen big changes in the community since you guys came in.”
Chief Jarrod Schiereck said, “We gave them their neighborhoods back,” speaking about arresting people who ran drug houses because people in the neighborhood told the police what was happening. The chief said it took awhile to build the cases, but they finally made the arrests.
Prosecutor Pohlsander said he had discovered and used “expedited eviction.” That is a law which permits his office to immediately evict drug dealers from homes they are renting.
The prosecutor said that landlords need to check out potential renters by looking on CaseNet at www.courts.mo.gov. He said, “Be smart as a landlord.”
A citizen at the meeting asked if a landlord could be charged for permitting a renter to conduct drug activity. The prosecutor said he would look into that.
The police chief has seven officers to police 3,500 residents in a four square mile area or 875 per square mile. The sheriff has 11 officers to police 13,760 Cedar County resident in 648 square miles or just over 21 per square mile.
The sheriff said, “We work as a team. I wouldn’t ask for a better team.” He continued, “We need the public’s help to fight what’s out there.”
Ms. Louderback asked if there was need for a community auxiliary to raise funds for a drug dog.
Chief Schiereck said, “We need to know all the expenses before we ask.”
The sheriff said it’s a Cedar County team. “The chief can use the dog if we get one.”
The prosecutor said, “Thank the officer when he pulls you over for speeding. You’d be amazed how many felony cases have come from stops for no license plate.”
Sheriff Dwerlkotte concluded the meeting with “If we can help you, call us. We’ll try to get you answers. Don’t hesitate to call.”