The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

March 15, 2014

Half-cent sales tax on ballot in Seneca

SENECA, Mo. — A proposal for a half-cent sales tax on the April 8 ballot in Seneca is designed to solve a long-term problem related to the train track that divides the town and to help stabilize the budgets of the fire and police departments.

A simple majority vote is required for approval.

An immediate goal of the sales tax is to build a satellite fire station south of the track. The track runs east to west, preventing northbound and southbound traffic from moving when a train is on the track.

 Fire Chief Darren King and police Chief James Altic said many times emergency vehicles are stuck on the north side of the track, where the fire and police station is located, with no way to get to an emergency south of the track. King said his men who live south of the track also are unable to get to their equipment at the station north of the track.

Altic said there was an incident last week in which a man was having a heart attack at a convenience store south of the track at Business U.S. Highway 60 and Highway 43. A train was blocking the way, and it was several minutes before the man could receive treatment.

“That gentleman was in a bad state,” he said.

Both said there have been many situations like that over the years, but the satellite station would solve it.

King said some details about the station haven’t been worked out yet. He said the location hasn’t been identified. A simple 40-foot-by-40 foot, two-bay metal building with a restroom is planned, he said. He said two trucks and other equipment would be at the station, and it would be staffed by firefighters who live south of the track.

King said the additional fire station has good potential to reduce the city’s Insurance Service Office rating, which might reduce home insurance rates for residents.

The additional station also would help some with the cramped conditions in the fire station. Trucks must touch bumpers in order to fit them all inside the current station, which was built in 1978. It also houses the police station.

No cost estimate has been developed for the building, King said.

He said if the sales tax is approved, he expects the fire station to be in place by the end of the year.

The current city sales tax is 1.75 percent, with the total city, county and state sales tax paid at Seneca businesses at 7.35 percent. The half-cent sales tax would boost the rate to 7.85 percent.

Besides the fire station, Altic said the revenue would provide some stability to the budgets of the police and fire departments. The revenue would be divided equally between the two.

Altic said decreasing interest earned on the city’s investment accounts and declining property tax and sales tax revenues are hurting the police and fire departments.

“We’re down three cops from where we were six years ago,” Altic said.

He said his department is making the best of it, remaining under budget and increasing the number of arrests from 101 in 2012 to 203 in 2013. He said most of the arrests are related to drugs and alcohol, including for driving while intoxicated.

He said his department takes advantage of free training opportunities. The department has a new standard operating procedures manual at no cost, courtesy of a graduate student at Missouri Southern State University.

Altic said his department can’t keep that up if the budget is cut further.

“We have nowhere to cut other than people,” Altic said. “We’re just staying afloat.”

Altic said maintaining the status quo is the immediate goal of the additional tax revenue, if approved. If the sales tax revenue increases from increased business in future years, Altic said there are some things he would like to address.

“We’re one of the only cities left without onboard computers” in patrol cars, Altic said. He said the Joplin Police Department had onboard computers when he worked there in 1993.

“This isn’t a toy tax” for additional equipment, Altic said.

“We’re at bare bones right now,” he said.

Revenues

CITY CLERK Cyndy Hutchings said a half-cent city sales tax for streets last year provided revenues of $88,298.

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