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Independence seeks tax hike for fire department on Nov. 2

Stock Independence Fire Truck 2
Posted at 4:59 PM, Oct 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-26 17:59:12-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Independence will ask voters to quadruple the existing sales tax for municipal fire service during the upcoming Nov. 2 election.

City officials said a one-eighth cent Fire Protection Sales Tax currently generates approximately $2.1 million annually for the Independence Fire Department. The tax is scheduled to sunset on Dec. 31, 2026.

The city has proposed replacing that tax with a half-cent sales tax — four times more than the current tax — that no longer has a sunset provision.

“The Fire Department is an essential service for the City of Independence,” Independence Fire Chief Doug Short said in an email to KSHB 41 News. “The needs of continual operations don’t sunset.”

The city council agreed and decided to propose the tax increase without the need for renewal in the future.

A half-cent tax is the largest allowed by Missouri state law. The new tax, if passed, would generate $8.4 million annually, according to information from the city.

The additional $6.3 million per year would be used to replace five fire stations, construct one new station, replace aging fire trucks and purchase new trucks, purchase additional equipment, and pay for ongoing maintenance needs.

Seven of the Independence Fire Department’s 10 stations are more than 30 years old, according to city officials.

“Based on current revenue projections, it would take approximately four years of revenue to replace or build a new station,” the city of Independence said in an email to KSHB 41 News.

A four-year schedule for maintenance on 10 or more stations is problematic and “mathematically impossible to adequately address the needs of the community,” according to the city.

The money from the proposed new tax also would be used to fully staff the department, hire new firefighters, bolster the department’s administrative ranks, and address training as well as technology needs.

While Fire Protection Sales Tax revenue has remained relatively flat during the past 15 years, replacement costs for infrastructure and equipment have surged, according to information provided on the city website.

Service calls also have exploded.

“The increases over the 30 years, by percentage of call type — fire, emergency medical service and service calls — have been consistent, however the general culture of utilizing an essential service of the community has changed due to an aging population, community growth and expanding services,” Short said.

During the last 30 years, the fire department’s annual incident-response rate has nearly quadrupled, while the number of calls requiring fire department apparatus have nearly tripled.

During that same span, Independence Fire Department has seen a decrease from 18 to 15 apparatus and a decrease from 192 to 179 full-time positions.

The current Fire Protection Sales Tax raised more than $2.40 million during the 2019-20 fiscal year, more than $2.25 million in 2020-21 and the city budgeted for nearly $2.84 million from the tax based on the adopted 2021-22 budget.

The new Fire Protection Sales Tax would go into effect April 1, 2022, if passed by voters.

The fire department also received more than $21 million from the city’s general fund, or roughly 27%, in the 2021-22 adopted budget. It’s the second-largest expenditure behind only the Independence Police Department, which received nearly $28.7 million from the general fund.

Kansas City, Missouri, voters doubled the sales tax for KCFD services in June 2020. It's now a half-cent, similar to the Central Jackson County Fire Protection District, which includes Blue Springs, and Independence's proposed rate.

Liberty has a quarter-cent sales tax for its fire department.