Your Opinion: Viewpoints on fire department sales tax

From Phil Garcia, Jefferson City:

Dear Editor:

In his letter of July 31, Mr. Rodabaugh made what I considered a very important point: the rationale for attributing the funding of the fire department to homeowners in the taxing jurisdiction is imminently logical because the “primary purpose of the fire department ... is to put out fires on property.”

It follows that homeowners in Columbia would fund the Columbia fire department; homeowners in Sedalia would fund the Sedalia fire department, homeowners in Holts Summit would fund the Holts Summit fire department.

However since fire departments also roll out for other reasons, e.g. car fires, it would be interesting to break out the expenses according to the origin of the alarm.

If car fires, for example, account for half of the fire department’s total cost, perhaps car owners should be asked to “contribute” to half the expense of maintaining a fire department.

If not, and the bulk of fire department expenses are due to “fires on property” re-assigning this expense away from homeowners to individuals who pay sales tax, whether they are or are not homeowners or in the taxing jurisdiction would seem inherently unjust.

Or maybe not. On Aug. 1, a letter from Josh Young, a J.C. firefighter, wrote that “now the majority of our calls are medical emergencies. While we also put out fires, we conduct water rescues, technical rope rescues, vehicle extrications, and respond to hazardous material incidents.”

That clouds more than clarifies the issue. None of the responses noted by Young require a custom-built firehouse nor super duper firetrucks and all related costs. Aren’t there two major medical complexes in J.C.?

I realize time is short, but perhaps before tackling the question of funding a more important concern is reviewing our entire emergency response system to efficiently match the incoming call.

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From Robert L and MaryAnn Reuter, Jefferson City:

Dear Editor,

A basic desire the majority of us have is for the safety and well-being of our families 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We want them safe on stormy, lightningpunctuated nights as well as sunny, cloudless days. We want them safe on weekends and holidays.

For that kind of safety, emergency service providers must make a sacrifice of their family time. They work the weekends and the holidays, often missing the ball games, the scouting activities and other special events of their families.

They do this gladly because they have made a commitment to public service. Their spouses and families make a commitment to soldier on without them so that they may have a career that isn’t about them but about keeping our community secure.

Now they are asking for the community’s support to keep them safe with tools to make them more effective. A vote for Proposition 2 will ensure that the Firefighters of Jefferson City can continue to provide the essential services that most of us take for granted.

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From Tim Stallman, Jefferson City:

Dear Editor:

The Citizens for a Safer Community committee has continued a campaign of disinformation in their advertising to convince voters into voting for the sales tax increase.

This disinformation started with the deceptive ballot language approved by the City Council. Our property tax will only decrease by two percent, not 17 percent as claimed. For many it will not decrease at all. A letter by one of the CSC leaders on Sunday continued their deception by claiming a 17 percent decrease without clarification that only the city portion decreases.

Every tax of this kind should have yearly outside audits and published yearly reports to taxpayers, as well as reports posted on the city website. The ordinance creating the $41 million Fire Department sales tax has none of those provisions.

After election day the taxpayer will be told nothing. The light of public scrutiny will go dark.

Oh, there is a provision for an ad hoc committee (ad hoc is a Latin legal term meaning “quickly slapped together at the last minute”) that reports to no one in particular and has no legal power. It was set up to pacify one city councilman who was uneasy about this whole affair. That alone is a red flag. Two other councilmen went so far as to vote against sending this to the voters at all.

Through accounting gimmicks the City Council will be able to reduce its usual funding of the Fire Department by whatever amount the new sales tax brings in to the Fire Department. The City Council will then be free to spend a big chunk of this newfound (read your) money in any way it chooses.

Why hasn’t the City Council come clean and told us what they intend to do with the extra million bucks per year Prop. 2 will create in city general revenue? Let me think now — what could they be thinking about building with all this money combined with the lodging tax money?

You know what.

By the way, who is paying for those fancy brochures the CSC sent out? Could it be donations from com- panies that hope to sell equipment to the Fire Department if this passes or is it the fireman’s union.

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From Ryan Lock, Jefferson City:

Dear Editor:

The JCFD tax proposal deserves voter support. It is time to modify the existing JCFD funding mechanism and spread the economic burden among all those that utilize and benefit from our many services.

Consider the value of property associated with the following entities in Jefferson City:

• Government (federal, state, county, city).

• Churches.

• Hospitals.

• Schools (public ,private and universities)..

• Non-profit groups and associations.

Every city has tax-exempt property, but Jefferson City has an unusually high number of buildings and properties that are considered non-taxable due to our status as the state capital and county seat.

The amount of real estate and assessed value these organizations represent in Jefferson City is astounding. Consider the number of dollars that these organizations contribute to our existing property tax model to fund the JCFD. $0.

To compound the funding gap, 45 percent of emergency calls activated are for individuals who live outside the city limits. Based upon these facts, it is not a coincidence that the JCFD is under funded. The current system is anything but equitable. Property taxes to fund fire departments make sense in many municipalities; however it doesn’t for Jefferson City. We will be better served by a sales tax if everyone who uses our emergency service pays their fair share. Support community safety and your local fire fighters Vote Yes for Proposition 2

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From James P. Hill, Jefferson City:

Dear Editor: When is the last time the Fire Department did not respond to a fire? Have you ever heard that the Fire Department is not doing a very good job — that after a fire event, there was nothing but criticism? When was the last time you heard that the Fire Department showed up without helmets, coats or other necessary or life-saving equipment? When was the last time fire trucks were required to be parked outside or that old, outdated trucks are used — save for the parades? When has the mayor and City Council said “no” to required training? Answers to these questions tell me we already have and adequate Fire Department, so we must be doing something right. Vote no Aug. 7. A sales tax is not the way to fund this need and eliminates elected oversight.

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From Robert S. Miller, Jefferson City:

Dear Editor:

Jefferson City has an excellent fire department. Through the years the service for protection of property has always been first rate. The response to emergencies is timely and excellent. It is imperative that this be continued.

It has always been the property owners that financed the fire protection service. It is this part of the service that is most beneficial to them and has always been supported by property taxes. It is an ad valorem tax according to value.

All the present equipment, buildings, etc. was made available by the property tax. The fire department needs new equipment and other facilities.

There is no question about this and that they should have all that is needed to provide the best possible fire protection. The concern is how to provide the funding needed to get the equipment and another fire station.

The system that has always been used (property taxes) or a new method sales tax.

How would the Fire Department service be better with sales tax money over the property tax money?

The News Tribune referring to the sales tax proposal has an article on July 27, page A3. It says, “That would be about $1.9 million extra each year for the department.” Over 15 years that would be $27 million. There is a projection. With the expect growth in Cole County the amount available could be considerable more. Who will decide how to spend the funds? The Council. Who will be on the Council to decide five or 10 years in the future?

If there is a surplus it is almost certain that the money will be spent. There is always another need.

There is no oversight on how to spend any surplus money. The present system identifies the need each year and property taxes are assessed depending on the value received. With the sales tax there is no way to put a cap on income, expenditures or benefits. The tax is for 15 years with no opportunity to change it.

In 2011 a residential property assessed at $1 million would have a property tax of $9,3775.31. With a one-fourth sales tax it would require buying approximately $3.7 million worth of goods to equal this amount. Residential property owners will pay significantly less with the sales tax. The commercial and farm tax rates are different.

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From Robert Haslag, Centertown:

Dear Editor:

On Tuesday, we again face a proposed sales tax increase.

I must first address briefly a recent submission that identified me as the “democratic chair.” It is customary to capitalize the “d” and “c” in such usage. I consistently capitalize the “r” and “p” when referencing the Republican Party in any usage. To not do so in that submission is simply mean, read as petty and small.

Back to Aug. 7, I generally support the proposed improvements to the fire department. With law enforcement, education, water, streets and other core services, fire protection is a taxfunded core community service.

We may grumble but taxes are our community declaration of what we value as a community.

My objection is that once again Jefferson City will vote to increase the sales taxes paid in Jefferson City, a tax increase essentially on all the residents of Cole County because of the economic centrality of the City of Jefferson. The citizens of Jefferson City will receive a meager $25 break on their property taxes.

Please note at the same time there will be a proposed 50 percent property tax increase to the library portion of our property taxes, another worthy cause. And there goes the $25 savings!

There seems to be an intrinsic hostility to asking those financially successful in our system for help to sustain our communities. Repeatedly the preferred course is to increase a regressive sales tax option which inordinately and disproportionately falls upon the shoulders of citizens who spend most of their resources on items falling under that tax structure.

This drip, drip, a quarter-cent at a time, must compel difficult choices by individuals and families who survive at the low end of the income scale.

These citizens are not parasites as some would assert. Nor are they an endless funding source for our community. Whether on fixed incomes or working low-wage jobs, our citizens cannot continuously endure these seemingly minuscule add-ons.

Perhaps, our city and county leaders might review the property tax abatements and exemptions offered to incentivize investment and construction, instead of lining up like prostitutes as the business “johns” stroll the market for the community that will offer the best deal. Remember the economic strutting by Illinois and Missouri when the St. Louis Cardinals were the prize.

Who will these “johns” call when they need the services the rest of us fund?

Issue-oriented letters to the editor in response to this or about other local topics are welcome. All letters should be limited to 400 words. The author's name must appear with the letter, and the name, address and phone number provided for verification. Letters that cannot be verified by telephone will not be published. Send letters for publication to editor@newstribune.com

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