City fire wish list carries price tag

A sales tax up for renewal is among options for funding.
Monday, June 13, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:23 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A 2005 citywide survey found that 87 percent of Columbia residents were pleased with the fire service they are receiving. But maintaining that standard is going to take more money, city fire officials say.

Battalion Chief Steven Sapp and the Columbia Fire Department have given the city a wish list for expansion. Voters approved a quarter-cent sales tax in 1999 to help fund the department, but with that tax set to expire in December, a new source of money will be needed for future expenses.

The Columbia City Council is considering several ways $140 million could be obtained to pay for roads, public safety and parks during the next 10 years. One proposal is to continue the quarter-cent sales tax, of which 30 percent would go to public safety. That proposal is expected to be on the November ballot.

While the city has not approved anything on the wish list, Sapp says he’s hopeful.

“We’re still in the discussion phase,” City Manager Ray Beck said.

The council will prioritize issues on the list of what the city needs most, First Ward Councilwoman Almeta Crayton said.

“It depends on what the city needs right now,” she said. “If the fire truck is 20 years old, then you need a truck.”

If the tax is approved by the council and voters, the Columbia Fire Department would receive $13.7 million over 10 years. Sapp said it needs new fire trucks and has asked the council to approve two new fire stations and one replacement station.

“A fair number of trucks need repair,” he said.

Trucks that are older than eight years go into reserve status and are not used for the front line. When a truck reaches age 12, it needs replacement. Sapp said eight trucks need replacement while two new trucks would be needed if the new stations are approved.

Fire Station No. 7, on South Providence Road, is degrading and needs to be moved a half-mile to the west to decrease response times and make for less overlap in coverage area with other fire stations, Sapp said.

“We would hope to maintain or improve on current response times. Our goal is 4½ minutes 80 percent of the time, but right now we are achieving that 50 percent of the time,” Sapp said.

Tentatively, the two new stations would be located at Stadium Boulevard and Interstate 70 and at a future intersection of Providence and Blue Ridge roads that could arise out of road expansion.

“We can’t use sales tax to fund personnel,” Sapp said. “It has to come from the general revenue.”

The cost of 12 staff members for the new stations would be $700,000 per station.

If taxpayers do not approve the vote in November, the Fire Department would need to come up with another plan.

“I think we do a very good job, but it has to go back to the taxpayers,” Sapp said.

The survey that found 87 percent of residents were pleased with city fire service was taken this spring by Olathe, Kan.-based ETC Institute. The survey had 613 respondents and had a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.

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