Based upon the results of a working group on Thursday and Friday evenings, July 20 and 21, at City Hall, Clinton City Council is expected to consider and approve a special election for voters to decide quarter of a cent sales tax in support of Clinton Fire Department. The election will take place in November, under the proposal.
The tax will be earmarked for Fire Department funding and improvements.
(The Clinton City Council meeting where this matter will be presented is Tuesday night, July 25, after this newspaper has gone to press.)
In the proposal, the tax is projected to provide $250,000 per year for the fire department, above its current funding of $104,000 per year in the city budget. With the approval of the tax, the $104,000 would be rolled back into the city for improvements to the Water and Sewer Department, Councilman Jeff Pistole said.
The fire department had been receiving $1.50 on each water bill, at last count producing $18,200 per year, but that was eliminated 18 months ago.
Clinton Fire Chief D.L. Webb said the additional monies were needed to provide not just for immediate needs, but to be able to provide for growth of the department as the community grow. One immediate need, Webb said, was construction of a fire station to the south side of town where a ladder truck could be placed. In the current environment, Webb said, if the Highway 65 bridge was out, after, for example, a catastrophe, no ladder truck would be able to access multi-story buildings to the south. The nearest ladder truck would be from another city, at least an hour away, he said.
Webb was quick to point out during the meeting that the need for funds was not for a specific piece of equipment - the ladder truck being one example - but rather to give the department the capital it needed to continue to meet city needs - such as the south station. A training facility and manned fire station were among considerations, as well as operations improvements to lower the city's existing Class 4 ISO rating, in turn lowering insurance costs in the city.
In the past year the department had to use Act 833 money, a state-mandated set-aside for equipment, to purchase a new Cascade system for charging oxygen bottles. The money in the fund had been set aside toward updated a fire truck but had to be repurposed when the existing Cascade system broke early this year.
The ordinance for the tax will actually take place across three ordinances. City of Clinton Mayor Richard McCormac said this was constructed under the advice of the Arkansas Municipal League. The first ordinance is for a quarter of a cent tax for municipal services if approved by election, then an ordinance to put the election on a November ballot, then an ordinance assigning the revenue to the Clinton Fire Department.
The election date on the ordinance is Nov. 2, 2017. The date was chosen, Pistole said, as it was the traditional date of the national election, although no state or federal election in Arkansas is scheduled for this year.
“We're not trying to sneak in anything,” Pistole said.
Perception, all agreed, would be a problem in getting the community to support the fire tax. Some have asserted Van Buren County and Clinton taxes are higher than surrounding counties, but are not accounting for other city's hamburger and drink taxes in making those assertions, it was pointed out in the work group.
Update, July 26, Noon: As expected, the City Council voted in favor of the ordinances - unanimously - which will present the quarter-cent sales tax to benefit the Fire Department on a November ballot.