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Ashland police department: shortages could impact ability to help community

By Reyna Katko

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    ASHLAND, Missouri (KOMU) — A proposed local sales tax could help fund the Ashland Police Department and street improvements.

“We’re not asking for the world,” Chief Gabe Edwards said. “We’re just asking for the essentials.”

Ward 1 Alderman Nathan Volkart and Ward 2 Alderwoman Stephanie Bell had a heated discussion about whether that tax should be 0.5% or 1%.

“People don’t like taxes,” Volkart said. “But if you went door and asked every single person in this city ‘if there’s a way to improve the roads or law enforcement, or both, would you do it?’ without telling them [it would be through a tax], a majority would probably say ‘abso-freaking-lutely.'”

Ashland already has a 1% local sales tax, so this would be a separate, additional tax. Bell said she couldn’t justify making this proposed sales tax more than half of a percent.

“People are hurting right now, and so I think to pile a tax on citizens is a hard pill to swallow,” Bell said.

The Jan. 3 meeting was only the first reading of the proposed tax. The Board of Aldermen said it plans to discuss the tax further at the next meeting.

In the meantime, there could be a delay in response times to non-emergency calls because of the staffing shortages.

Officers are now working 12-hour day shifts followed by 12 hours of being on-call. This means officers and the patrol sergeant are giving up their free time to cover shifts.

The Ashland Police Department released a video addressing the recent staffing shortages. However, in a Facebook post, the Ashland Police Officer’s Association said the video doesn’t show the whole picture.

In the APD’s video, the mayor and chief used the phrase “delayed response” to explain how the shortage will impact the community. The APOA said this “downplays” the impact because people may have to wait until the next day for officers to respond.

The APD’s video said the department was “fully staffed” in 2022. While all the funded positions filled were filled, the APOA said it believes this information is misleading. That’s because it said having six patrol officer positions is “inadequate staffing” for the city.

APOA suggests having eight patrol officers and two patrol sergeants would be ideal for the city. It said this would allow for two day shift officers, two night shift officers, and one sergeant.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Sargent Andrew Worrall spoke on the shortages. He said he’s using his personal ballistic vest because the department cannot afford a new one for him.

“I’ve spent thousands of dollars of my own money to buy things the department can’t afford,” Sgt. Warroll said. “Things like my uniform pants, flashlights, and so on.”

The APOA’s statement also said officers let the department borrow ammunition in addition to the purchases Sgt. Waroll mentioned at the meeting.

“None of these issues is the City of Ashland’s fault,” the APOA statement said. “But rather a reality of the financial position the city is in. The general fund relies on sales tax, and there simply is not enough sales tax generated to appropriately fund the city.”

While Chief Edwards mentioned several position openings and supply necessities for the department, he said filling the vacant patrolling officer positions is his biggest priority at the moment.

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