D.L. Webb is concerned about perception.
The City of Clinton Fire Department Chief, Webb had stated to the Clinton City Council at its last meeting that he was preparing a proposal for a sales tax of a quarter of a cent in order to fund the department.
Beginning in 1969 the department had been funded by a addition to the water department bill, so all metered Clinton businesses were paying to the fire department via the water department. The original process was that each meter paid an additional 50 cents, in the original proposal, to fund a department fire truck. In time this bill was re-written and retooled, with additional money added to the water department bill, to cover additional expenses for the fire department. In 2015, during a state audit, the city was told the process of funding via water department bill was outside the original scope and intent of the 1969 proposal and the city could no longer use the existing process water department billing to fund the fire department.
Since then the department has been under a financial strain, with a $104,000 budget this year, down from its previous $150,000 budget. Typical of this strain was the recent need for a replacement for the department's Cascade system, used for charging air bottles, after it broke down. Funds had to be transferred from other accounts in order to meet the need.
The system was, and is, used by other area departments for air bottle charging of their equipment, Webb said.
Still the proposed tax - which would be presented to voters for approval before it goes into effect - is not as much to meet a this-thing-or-that-thing equipment need as to prepare the department for growth in the decades to come.
“We're not trying to get the money for a new fire truck,” Webb said (a fire truck being a $600,000 proposition) as much as to establish the fire department, and the city, and the citizens for needs 10, 20 and more years from now.
“Leave this world a better place then how you found it,” Webb said.
Under the proposal, he said, the department would be self-sustaining for 20 years, with the ability - roughly five years down the road - to provide monies needed for additional trucks and a station, the latter notably on the south side of Clinton.
Webb explained that the tax would bring the department back to its $150,000 budget, plus allow $104,000 to go back to the city. (Due to declining revenue, both city and county budgets have been under a strain this year.)
The quarter-cent was used because of the way statutes are written, Webb said. Quarter cent is the lowest tax, he said, the next rating being at a half-cent, then three-quarter up to a full cent. Under what he's prepared to propose, he said, it's a matter of a quarter cent this year, or a request for three-quarter of a cent in three years.
It's a matter of “What to look for in the long term,” Webb said.
City of Clinton Mayor Richard McCormac said he has a meeting planned for this week to discuss the tax proposal as would be presented to the city council for approval.
“I want to be sure what we put out there is accurate,” McCormac said. He explained that once the proposal is drawn up it is presented to the City Council for approval, then to the voters. By the nature of any tax proposal by state law, any tax proposal requires a 75 day period after council approval before it is placed before voters.
Webb, speaking to long term goals, said one thing he foresees from the department funding via a tax is the ability to lower the ISO rating for Clinton residents from ISO 4 to ISO 3 in five to seven years, which should save residents $300 to $400 per year in fire insurance costs.
[An earlier version of this story showed the ISO rating would impact Conway resident. Obviously, the impact is upon Clinton residents and the wording has been corrected - ed.]