The proposed 1-cent sales tax for public safety, dogs running loose, D.A.R.E. officers not being in Belleville schools, telephone scams, panhandlers, jaywalking, vacant homes and absentee landlords were some of the topics during the Q&A session at the Programs and Services for Older Persons, or PSOP, building at 201 N. Church St. in Belleville.
Cheryl Brunsmann, executive director of PSOP, and Belleville police officer Greg Giedeman, who proposed the Coffee with a Cop event, said they expect to have another session in April in the evening at PSOP so residents with daytime jobs could attend.
St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson fielded the questions about the proposed 1-cent sales tax that is on the April 4 ballot and said the funding is sorely needed.
This tax is separate from the proposed 1-cent sales tax on the April 4 ballot for public schools. If approved by the voters, each tax would raise an estimated $22 million annually.
“Glad you asked,” Watson said when the first question about the sales tax was asked. His response prompted laughter throughout the crowd.
He then detailed some the reasons why law enforcement agencies want voters to approve the public safety tax.
“The jail is deteriorating. It’s falling apart,” Watson said.
If approved, the public safety tax money would be used for several items, including $6 million a year to expand the jail, $5 million a year being split among county municipalities based on population, and installing a countywide emergency alert system.
Watson said the sales tax would not be on cars or food, but it would be on “discretionary” purchases such as a fast-food meal.
The public safety sales tax would sunset after 12 years.
Belleville officers said the D.A.R.E., or Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, was no longer being offered in Belleville schools because department leaders decided the manpower for the program was needed on the streets.
Belleville Officer Jackie Laminack said in an interview after the meeting that she was city’s D.A.R.E. officer when the program ended about five years ago.
“I still visit the schools,” she said when she gets a chance while on patrol.
Rosemary Hamann, who lives on Sixth Street in Belleville, said when she walks her dog, she sees a lot of houses that are in “bad shape.”
Two of the city’s housing officers, Brenda Donat and Beth Ferry, were at the meeting.
Donat said the city does demolish homes but she said it’s a lengthy process to cite the owner and then get permission to tear down a building. “It takes time,” she said.
Belleville Police Capt. Matt Eiskant took the first question and it was about dogs running loose and pet waste found in a woman’s front yard.
“That’s an issue. It’s a quality of life issue. You said it keeps you up a night,” Eiskant said. “That’s something if you call the police department, an officer will respond and they will handle the situation.”
For example, Eiskant said the officer could talk to the neighbor with the dog.
Eiskant also said the city’s website, Belleville.net, has a “Report a concern” link where residents can file non-emergency complaints online.
The city gets five to 10 complaints to check out on some days, Eiskant said.
Officers urged the crowd to call the police or sheriff’s department if they are suspicious of anything.
Watson said people will often say they don’t want to bother law enforcement agencies but he said officers would rather have someone call than not call.
About 30 officers from the Belleville and Swansea police departments and the sheriff’s department attended the event. Coffee with a Cop began in Hawthorne, Calif., in 2011, and since then police officers in every state have participated, according to coffeewithacop.com.