PITTSBURG, Kan. —
Pittsburg voters approved a half-cent sales tax increase on Tuesday that will be earmarked for additional staffing and new equipment at the city’s police and fire departments.
The measure passed with 767 “yes’’ votes to 502 “no’’ votes, according to Crawford County Clerk Don Pyle. A simple majority was needed for passage. About 12 percent of registered voters turned out.
“I feel relieved,” said City Manager Daron Hall after the results were announced Tuesday night. “But you know, we’ve got a lot to do now. I’m glad we put it to the voters, and I’m very thankful to the voters for passing it. I’m happy for the staff who worked hard on this; we’re ready to go.”
Starting Jan. 1, the increase will raise the sales tax in Pittsburg from a combined local, county and state rate of 8.4 cents to 8.9 cents. Hall anticipates it will generate $1.8 million per year for the 10-year life of the tax.
For the police department, $800,000 annually will pay for an additional five patrol officers and a dispatcher, two detectives and a commander for the investigations unit, and a narcotics unit manned by three officers. Additionally, $300,000 will be used annually to pay for crime-solving technology.
For the fire department, $200,000 annually will be divided among a $75,000 per year, 10-year lease purchase on a new front-line pumper truck; 10 sets of breathing apparatus per year for an annual cost of $67,500 to replace breathing apparatus that is nearing the end of its life cycle and must be phased out; and seven sets of bunker gear per year at an annual cost of $17,500 to replace aging gear. It also will pay for individual and departmentwide training for a cost of about $4,000 per year.
The remainder of the annual revenue — about $500,000 — will be placed in emergency reserve to fund future increases in salaries, pension and insurance for the new staffing positions.
“Gosh — it’s really hard to put into words — it really is very exciting,” said Pittsburg police Chief Mendy Hulvey after learning of the measure’s passage Tuesday night. “I think obviously staffing has been a long-standing issue for the police department, and we are so thankful the citizens of Pittsburg recognized our limitations and turned out to support a plan to address it.”
The Kansas Bureau of Investigation’s Crime Index Report has for the past five years ranked Pittsburg among the top five cities for crime. Hulvey attributes that not just to its population but also to it being in a border county, near Interstate 44 and home to a high percentage of lower-income residents.
Acceptable state and federal staffing levels suggest an average of 2.3 officers per 1,000 residents. In Pittsburg, there are about 1.9 officers per 1,000.
Hulvey said Tuesday night that at a staff meeting earlier in the day, the department discussed the possible ramifications if the sales tax measure passed and if it didn’t.
“The officers, the commanders are ready to hit the ground running. We’re ready to get out on the streets and see what kind of impact we can have,” she said.
Fire Chief Mike Simons said Tuesday night that he was excited about the measure’s passage.
“And I really need to say thank you to the community for supporting this initiative. This is going to really enable us to improve our response to the community, but also our safety overall — not just for fire, but also for police,” Simons said.
He plans to create committees to begin developing specs and getting bids for gear and equipment purchases, and to plan training exercises.
“That process will probably take several months. A good goal would be to have that finished by the first of the year, and then we can move forward rather quickly once the money is available,” Simons said.
According to Crawford County Clerk Don Pyle, a few provisional ballots will need to be counted, but they likely will not affect the election’s results. The votes will be canvassed on Monday.