KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Voters will have a choice in April to raise sales taxes to help the Kansas City, Missouri Fire Department buy new vehicles and maintain several buildings.
The city council voted 10-2 on Thursday to put the issue in front of voters on April 2, 2020. The two council members to vote no were Councilwoman Melissa Robinson and Councilman Eric Bunch.
The sales tax for the fire department could increase from a quarter cent to a half cent, doubling the amount the department currently receives, generating $21 million a year. The tax would expire Dec. 31st of 2036, pending a renewal.
The fire department's problems range from massive potholes in the driveway for the trucks to pull in and out of to equipment.
"Fire trucks roll in and out of these fire stations all day long and just wears and tears on our facilities," KCFD Deputy Chief Jimmy Walker said.
Station 40 is currently closed down because the fire department says it is not fit to be in. Part of the sales tax plan would outfit all stations with gender neutral bathrooms.
"A lot of these stations were built for our workforce, so we have a number of stations that aren't gender neutral, and there aren't facilities that are for males and females," Walker said.
The department would like to replace ambulances they say are running on borrowed time. At KCFD's Eastwood campus, the department wants to replace the HVAC systems, the parking lot and a portion of the roof.
None of these projects are possible, according to the fire department, without more money.
"We want the fire department to be a little more self-sufficient," Walker said.
While Kansas City, Missouri Councilwoman Melissa Robinson agrees there are serious issues facing the fire department, she wants more time to look through the proposal.
"There wasn't a lot of conversation, or a lot of time to have conversation, so part of the challenge when you're doing something so significant is to ensure that we all have information," Robinson said.
She argues another tax increase would be a burden for people in her district.
"When we have decisions this critical that are going to impact the poor, the people that are choosing between food and medicine, it's critically important for us to consider the poor," Robinson said.
Kansas City voters approved a sales tax renewal for KCFD in 2014.
Mayor Quinton Lucas said they city should find income from pre-existing funds.
Lucas issued the following statement to 41 Action News:
“The Fire Service has asked for an opportunity to explain to the public the rationale for a tax increase. They now will have that opportunity over the months ahead. I maintain that City Hall can and must also find ways to reallocate pre-existing tax dollars to meet modern-day needs. I’ll continue working to ensure that we’re strategically spending and stretching each dollar as far as we can.”