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Election 2020: Down to the wire on Perry County safety tax referendum

By Renee Trappe
updated: 3/13/2020 11:30 AM

If the coronavirus causes a worldwide recession, all the more reason Perry County voters should reject the county's half-cent sales tax increase on the primary ballot this coming Tuesday, says Du Quoin Mayor Guy Alongi.

A vocal critic of the proposal both now and last April, Alongi said the coronavirus's effect on the economy is adding fuel to his argument against the tax, saying Du Quoin's two biggest sales-tax producers -- Walmart and the Prysmian Group (formerly General Cable) might well be hit hard by a recession.

And if they are, he says, a half-cent addition to the sales tax in Perry County might be the impetus they need to relocate out of Du Quoin and Perry County entirely.

Perry County Sheriff Steve Bareis, who says the sales tax increase will allow him to bring more patrol officers on board, said Thursday he doesn't believe a half-cent addition to the sales tax will push two multi-million dollar business out of Du Quoin.

"We're talking life and limb -- both police officers and the public," Bareis said as he drove to an accident Thursday afternoon on Route 13/127. "I don't think the two (arguments) are comparable."

Bareis said his department is down to five officers, including himself, to patrol the unincorporated areas of Perry County. With the money from a half-cent increase in the sales tax, he says he can hire enough officers to have two on each 12-hour shift.

"We're not in the 40s or 50s and we don't live in Mayberry," Bareis said. "You can't get by, what with methamphetamine and active shooters and domestic issues. Every call you go to there's a need for another officer (as backup)."

Bareis said he thinks more people are convinced in 2020 that his department's need is real. In April 2019 the same referendum failed by more than 2 to 1.

"I definitely feel like I've had a better response; I've had a lot of people come up to me supportive of the measure," Bareis said.

"I believe the outcome will be better, although whether we'll have enough to pass I won't know until Tuesday," he added. "I definitely think the public has seen the devastation of my department."

Bareis had six officers, including him, until recently, when one left to go to work with the Illinois State Police.

"I don't want to make this Alongi versus me," Bareis said. "His guys back up ours, our guys back up Du Quoin."

Alongi said the dispute over the referendum isn't personal for him, either. And he doesn't want anyone to think he doesn't back law enforcement.

But he's worried that the amount of sales taxes collected in Perry County and Du Quoin, particularly, is getting so burdensome that eventually it will start costing jobs.

And when that happens, "It's going to hurt Du Quoin worse than anywhere else in Perry County," he said, referring to the Prysmian Group and its $20 an hour jobs.

He pointed out that when Perry County voters passed the sales tax to support local school construction, Du Quoin voters as a bloc rejected it. "But the rest of the county passed it, so we have it," he said.

Alongi said as the mayor of Du Quoin it's his job to consider Du Quoin's interests above all else.

"We're now on the verge of a recession," Alongi said, reflecting on the stock market meltdowns of the past few days. "When these things happen, people hold tighter to their pocketbooks and they don't buy big ticket items. Or maybe businesses don't buy as much cable wire.

"And that will trickle down," he added.

Du Quoin, he said, is about 25% to 30% of the total Perry County population, but it generates 72% of the sales taxes.

Bareis said if the referendum fails on Tuesday, he doesn't know what comes next.

"I don't know if we'll try again," he said. "What's going to change in a year?"

He said his only recourse will probably be to have more hours with no law enforcement coverage on duty.

Bareis said he doesn't have a lot of overtime at his disposal and so he has been covering extra shifts himself. Last week, he said, he worked 84 hours and slept in his office three nights. This week it'll be closer to 60 hours.

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.

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.

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