Ralls County has not bought a new squad car for the sheriff’s department in more than a decade.


   Ralls County has not bought a new squad car for the sheriff’s department in more than a decade.
   The county buys old Missouri Highway Patrol vehicles and when deputies wear them out, the clunkers sometimes are retooled and used by road and bridge crews.
   The county gets all it can out of its equipment, and a half-cent sales tax first approved in 1990 is one of the reasons it can afford even used materials.
   Voters on April 6 will be asked to approve a five-year continuation of the tax, which county commissioners say is needed now more than ever.
   “It’s needed very badly,” said Presiding Commissioner George Lane. “We’d have to shut some things down if it don’t pass. It’s very essential to the operations of the county.”
   The economic downturn has led to a drop in revenue from the tax. In 2008, it generated $450,106. Last year, the figure was $405,092, and “it’s not starting out very good this year,” Lane said.
   “We don’t know when things will get better,” said Commissioner R.C. Harlow. “They may get worse before they get better.”
   Revenue is split between the county general fund, the sheriff’s department and the road and bridge fund.
   Unlike some larger counties, Ralls doesn’t have major retailers. When the recession hit two years ago, many shoppers took what little money they had and went to giant discount stores.
   Ralls County also relied heavily on sales taxes from auto sales, but that source has dried up.
   “People aren’t buying vehicles like they were,” said County Clerk Ernie Duckworth.
   Commissioners implemented a 20 percent cut in expenses for each office and froze wages for 2010 to save money. If tax continuation doesn’t pass, more belt-tightening is planned.
   “Right now, we’re holding our own,” said Commissioner Steve Whitaker. “We want to keep things running as we have in the past. Without (that sales tax), it would be hard to operate. You’re not going to be able to operate if you don’t cut back.”
   Lane said having a variety of small businesses “helps tremendously,” but believes the economy will have to rebound so that people have more money in their pockets before things turn around.
   “It’s not a rosy picture,” Lane said. “It’s sad.”
   A simple majority is required for passage. There are 8,895 registered voters in the county.