ELECTION 2020 Sheriff Bareis asking voters to 'back the blue' with public safety tax
Perry County Sheriff Steve Bareis knows he has a job ahead of him to convince Perry County residents to support a hike in the county sales tax.
Voters soundly defeated the half-cent tax increase last April by more than 2 to 1. Du Quoin Mayor Guy Alongi, a vocal critic of the proposal, is a formidable opponent.
Bareis is the face of the referendum, which is coming before voters again on the March 20 primary ballot, because it will enable him to beef up what he considers to be critically low staffing on county patrols.
"No one wants another tax. I get that," he said, acknowledging the defeat he was handed in 2019. "But this is about providing services for the safety of the county as well as my officers. I've got police officers putting their lives on the line, and they may not have anybody coming to help them."
Bareis had 11 patrol officers before the failed referendum forced layoffs. He now has six, including himself.
Before the layoffs each shift usually had three officers patrolling around the county, Bareis said. Now, there is frequently one officer on duty for the whole county.
"If I could get three more, I'd settle for double-coverage every shift," Bareis said. "We could cover both sides of the county."
His argument isn't just about the safety of his own officers, which is critical, he says. It's also about the safety of Perry County residents outside of Du Quoin and Pinckneyville, who don't have their own police departments.
"People who live in the rural areas have no protection (other than the sheriff)," Bareis said.
Alongi, who has been the voice of the opposition both in 2019 and now, isn't arguing that the public safety problems aren't real. He's arguing that Du Quoin businesses would bear the brunt of the increased sales tax and get little in return for it. He's also saying the county needs to be responsible for getting its own house in order.
The sheriff said since the layoffs, his department is running on average 100 fewer law enforcement actions per month than before. That's fewer tickets written and arrests made, he explained.
"Theoretically that's 1,200 more crimes going unpunished a year," Bareis said.
Bareis said that if the referendum fails a second time he has a few options. One of them, he says, is to charge municipalities a booking fee for each inmate they send to the county -- to help offset the costs of housing the inmates before trial, feeding them and taking care of their medical needs.
"The county is on the hook for a lot of money," regarding inmates, he said. "In reality, 65% of my inmates come from Du Quoin."
Bareis wishes the Perry County Board would do more to promote the tax hike and convey a sense of urgency. In 2019, he said, Bareis and his wife did most of the barnstorming on behalf of a yes vote.