A proposed sales tax increase on the June 2 ballot would help the KCMO Fire Department fund needed equipment and capital improvements. Photo by Kathy Feist
Will the quarter-cent fire sales tax be approved by voters or go up in flames?
By John Sharp
Kansas City voters will decide on Tuesday, June 2, whether to increase the city’s current quarter-cent fire sales tax to a half-cent to be used exclusively to fund needed equipment and capital improvements for the Fire Department.
Replacing the department’s aging and high mileage ambulance fleet is one of its most pressing needs. Fire Chief Donna Maize said the average mileage of the department’s 51 ambulances is over 104,000 miles, with over 198,000 miles on its highest mileage ambulance.
In past years the department was able to obtain like-new ambulances by purchasing new chassis and refurbishing the patient compartments and remounting them on the new chassis for a fraction of the cost of buying new ambulances, but that chassis model has been discontinued so entirely new ambulances will need to be purchased.
After the most pressing immediate needs for new vehicles are met, the additional funding will allow the department to implement a phased replacement program for its entire fleet including 32 pumper trucks, 12 aerial ladder trucks and 4 rescue/hazardous material response vehicles.
The funding also will allow the department to accelerate its efforts to extensively remodel and upgrade 12 fire stations and to install appropriate facilities for both genders in the 6 stations where that has not been done. It also will allow the department to consider opening new stations in underserved areas of the city where significant residential or job growth is occurring, such as some portions of south Kansas City.
“The department will conduct a facility assessment to ensure our locations still meet deployment needs and match areas of projected population growth,” Maize said.
One of the most significant facility expenses is projected to be the construction of a new consolidated fire headquarters complex that would also house department administrative offices that are now spread out among three locations, vehicle maintenance which is done at two locations and the training academy.
The current training academy was opened in 1965 and has not been significantly remodeled or upgraded since then. “It does not fit the needs of training a diversified, professional workforce and contributes to limitations on safe and progressive training,” Maize said.
Other major needs include replacing the department’s EKG monitors and defibrillators, portable and mobile radios, worn fire hoses and obsolete vehicle stabilization equipment and airbags.
All of these upgrades should help the department keep its top Insurance Services Office rating which translates into lower insurance rates for both homes and businesses.
If Question 1 is approved by a simple majority of voters, the increase will take effect January 1, 2021, and expire on December 31, 2036, when the current tax expires. The increase was authorized by a state law passed in 2019. It is expected to generate about $21 million annually depending on the state of the local economy.
Question 1 has been endorsed by both the South Kansas City Alliance and Southland Progress.