KC Fire Department asking voters for sales tax hike to update facilities, maintain equipment

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Kansas City voters will decide in April on a proposed sales tax increase to support the fire department.

Kansas City Fire Chief Donna Maize discussed the ballot issue with citizens at a South Kansas City Alliance meeting Monday evening.

The proposal would increase the current 1/4-cent fire sales tax to 1/2-cent. The request comes nearly five years after voters renewed the current 1/4-cent tax in 2014.

“While we did the renewal and it’s enabled us to compliant in staffing standards and those sorts of things, now it’s looking at that aging infrastructure and equipment expenses and the cost of doing business is always increasing,” Maize explained.

Maize said a lot of the department’s facilities were built in the 1970’s and 80’s and need significant work. She added that managing the fire and ambulance fleets is proving to be more costly, too.

The tax increase would raise an additional $21 million for the department every year through 2036.

“Nobody likes a sales tax. I understand that, but it’s really how do we position ourselves to be able to continue to provide the services that we’re well-known for and people expect of us, to everybody that visits, everybody that lives here and find a way to sustain that over time,” she said.

Jane Parks, with the Coalition for Kansas City Economic Development Reform, said the group is opposed to the tax hike because many people in the city, especially those spending in community improvement districts, are already paying 11 cents on the dollar.

“We have a lot of people who do not make a living wage, and they’re the ones who get hit hardest with this,” Parks said.

Parks also questioned the timing of the vote, adding that she felt the city council rushed the process.

“For something this important, we think it would have been better for the public to have more an opportunity to go the hearings and voice their support or concerns,” she said.

She expressed her support for the fire department but said there has to be a better way to meet the agency’s needs — other than raising taxes.

“We’re wondering, does the fire department not set aside money for long-terms needs like this?” she said. “We’re reaching a limit on what people can spend on taxes.”

Mayor Quinton Lucas’ office, who was not present for the council vote last month, released the following statement:

“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.”

Election Day is April 7.

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