Residents of a pair of area fire protection districts will be faced with a funding question when they go to the ballot boxes Tuesday.
The Fort Osage Fire Protection District seeks voter approval to issue $3.5 million in general obligation bonds for the purpose of capital improvements, while the Sni Valley District seeks a three-year continuous raise on its tax rate to help increase and improve its personnel.
The Fort Osage District covers approximately 110 square miles in northeastern Jackson County. Fire Chief John Yocum said the most pressing needs for his department include replacing the self-contained breathing apparatus (the air tanks), replacing two fire trucks that are from 1988 and 1997 and two ambulances, new communications equipment that provide wider radio coverage within the federal narrow band mandate and some facility upgrades.
Yocum said voters last approved bonds in 2008, and they were told then it would be 4 to 5 years before the fire district issued new ones. This $3.5 million set would be replacing those bonds and not adding burden to the taxpayers. The bonds would be repaid through funds generated by the current tax rate.
“It’s not a new one,” he emphasized. “We’re just asking to maintain the current tax level.”
Sni-Valley, a district that covers parts of the Grain Valley area, the entire Oak Grove and Bates City area and stretches into Lafayette County, wants to increase its operating tax levy by $0.09 per $100 of assessed valuation for each of the next three years.
Sni-Valley’s current tax rate is 83 cents per $100 in valuation, which Fire Chief Troy Negrete says is the lowest in the area. Fort Osage’s levy is $1.6724; Central Jackson County’s levy is $1.12. Should the levy pass, Sni Valley’s tax rate would increase to $0.89 this year, $0.96 in 2015 and $1.03 in 2016.
Negrete said he wants to increase his staffing with part-time people and volunteers, as well as better compensate his full-timers.
“My guys haven’t had a raise since 2006,” he said.
Not only would Sni Valley possibly lose personnel to other districts, but it would lose out on the training invested, which brings up another area of concern for Negrete.
“Right now, they get the basic training,” he said. “If we had a higher budget, I would be able to send them to more specialized training.”
With only five people on duty at a time now, the district can be hamstrung if multiple responses come in. Since 2006, the district has handled 400 more calls per year than it did that year, Negrete said.
The district has grown in population, “and we need to grow along with the community,” he said.
Negrete also wanted to emphasize how relatively small a burden the Sni Valley District is asking from voters.
“One of the biggest things people need to understand is assessed valuation is different (smaller) from home value,” he said.
The assessed value on a home is 19 percent of the actual value. So for a home with a market value of $100,000, the assessed value would be $19,000. With the current levy the tax on such a home would be $157.70. The first of the three-step increase would bring that to $169.10; the final step would bring it to $195.70 in 2016.
“For the price of a parking pass and a Chiefs ticket, you’re going to help us out,” he said.