Kansas City to vote on 20-year fire sales tax renewal

05/15/2014 5:21 PM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

Even though Kansas City’s sales tax for the Fire Department doesn’t expire until 2016, the City Council agreed Thursday to put a 20-year renewal of the tax before voters in August.

“This is a very important tax,” finance committee chairwoman Jan Marcason said before the council voted 11-0 to put renewal of the quarter-cent tax on the Aug. 5 ballot.

The Fire Department wanted the renewal now to help with its long-range planning and said it has a strategic plan for how the money will be spent. Waiting until next year might involve new elected leadership because a new City Council will take office in August 2015. In 2016, the city will confront another earnings tax election and possibly other election issues.

City Manager Troy Schulte said a 20-year renewal is most desirable from a financing perspective and will allow the city to issue debt to pay for major capital improvements.

The fire safety sales tax was initially authorized for 15 years and took effect Jan. 1, 2002. It helped pay for hiring more than 100 new firefighters, as well as for a dozen new or remodeled fire stations, plus equipment upgrades.

Fire Chief Paul Berardi said Thursday the department has spent the money responsibly so far and earned the public’s trust for a renewal. He said the new money is intended to help modernize the Fire Department’s vehicle fleet and pay for more station remodels, as well as two new stations in northeast and southeast portions of the city that currently lack sufficient fire coverage.

The tax is expected to generate about $15 million per year, once tax increment financing payments are subtracted.

But there’s still a big question of how much of the money will go for continuing firefighter salaries versus capital needs.

Schulte said that currently about two-thirds of the money goes for salaries and one-third for buildings and equipment. Council members said they want the money devoted to buildings and equipment and hope to adopt a resolution affirming that promise before the August election. But Schulte said they will have to figure out how to cover the firefighter salaries with another revenue source.

To reach Lynn Horsley, call 816-226-2058 or send email to lhorsley@kcstar.com.

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