Liberty voters will decide at the polls April 4 if they want to pay more for goods purchased in their city in exchange for more public-safety funding.
The proposed sales tax increase is half a cent, meaning it is an additional 3 cents on a $6 item, 15 cents on a $30 item, $2 on a $400 item. If passed, the city will start collecting the tax Oct. 1 later this year with an aim to start hiring by early 2018.
“If not Jan. 1,” Liberty Mayor Lyndell Brenton added.
For city officials, it is not just about adding four more bodies to the police force and three more to the firefighting team, but also about keeping current officers in Liberty.
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“We’re losing a lot of our experienced personnel to other municipalities in the area that have financial resources that we simply do not have,” Brenton said. “We need to stop the drain of our experienced personnel.”
Fire Chief Mike Snider echoed the mayor’s concerns about the need to elevate public safety employees’ pay scale and add more bodies to the forces. He said without passage of the the ballot measure, retention is going to continue to be a “difficult issue.”
“When you have a few number of people, it can create an unsafe environment where (the firefighters) are more taxed prior to doing their next function,” he said.
Getting this in front of the voters has been a multiyear process for the city, which had to get approval in Jefferson City before putting it on the ballot. Officials secured that in the last legislative session but didn’t have enough time to get it on the November ballot.
The mayor said that if the tax doesn’t pass, the city will continue to work with what it has while looking for other options, such as an increase in property taxes.
“For public safety, a sales tax is a more equitable way to get the funds,” the mayor said. “Anyone in our city is utilizing our police, ambulance and fire services, and a public-safety tax has everyone contributing.”
There are about 30,000 residents in Liberty proper, with an additional 30,000 in what city officials deem the “Liberty community.” The city estimates if the measure passes, it will bring in about $2.5 million each year.