Residents of two Eastern Jackson County fire protection districts will vote Tuesday on a proposed merger – one that would alleviate a point of contention among a portion of residents in south Blue Springs, emergency response times.
The Prairie Township and Lotawana fire protection districts have made plans to consolidate operations and build a new fire station in south Blue Springs. The proposed new district would be called the Southern Jackson County Fire Protection District.
Voters will have three questions to consider:
1. The question to actually consolidate, with a general operating levy of 74 cents per $100 of assessed valuation and ambulance levy of 30 cents per $100.
Then the next two questions would be effective only if voters approve consolidation.
2. Whether to issue general obligation bonds of $8.265 million to construct and equip a new fire station, including land purchase, and purchase firefighting apparatus and equipment. That includes a debt service levy of 15 cents per $100 of assessed valuation of real and personal property.
3. Whether to impose a half-percent sales tax to provide revenues for the district, with the total property tax levy in the district reduced annually by such an amount to equal revenues produced by 50 percent of the sales tax revenue (per state law).
The Prairie Township district, established in 1954, covers 32 square miles east of Lee's Summit, including portions of Lake Lotawana and south Blue Springs (about a block south of Liggett Road east of Missouri 7) and unincorporated areas of Jackson County, extending just south of U.S. 50. The Lotawana district generally encircles the lake. Most of Blue Springs is covered by the Central Jackson County Fire Protection District.
The new fire station would go on land off Wyatt Road east of Missouri 7. Blue Springs annexed that 59 acres in 2003, bought lots over the years and rezoned the land for a park or community assembly facility. The new fire district would have a 99-year lease with the city, and the new facility would have office space for a satellite police station for Blue Springs, Council Member Susan Culpepper said.
Chief Bill Large, who has guided the Lotawana department and about two years ago also took over as chief for Prairie Township, said those departments' existing fire stations would remain under the proposed consolidation. A second new fire station just south of U.S. 50, where the district currently is having some response time issues because of Missouri Department of Transportation construction on the highway, is possible in future years, he added.
But the larger issue has been in the south Blue Springs neighborhoods, where Large said 40 percent of Prairie Township's calls originate. From the department's station on Langsford Road just east of Lee's Summit, emergency vehicles travel north on Milton-Thompson Road to Missouri 7 and then Colbern Road – not the most conducive route for swifter response times.
A new station on Wyatt Road would alleviate that concern, Large said, and the department would hire four additional people.
“Right now, on a good day, depending on what part (of south Blue Springs), it's eight to 15 minutes,” he said of the times. “It would be three to five from the new one.”
That response-time issue had caused a group of citizens in south Blue Springs to sue more than two years ago, attempting to get their neighborhoods out from Prairie Township coverage to CJC's coverage. Culpepper said that suit – still active in court – would have to be dropped for a new station to be constructed, and it will be if consolidation is approved.
When the district lines had been mapped decades ago, the area was completely rural. Culpepper said she remembers being among just five residences in the Prairie Township district, and CJC simply covered them as a practicality. As more houses got built, though, that practice wasn’t viable, and some new homeowners were quite surprised upon learning they weren’t covered by CJC.
“I've had residents call and say they don't want that; they want CJC,” Culpepper said of the proposed South Central Jackson County District. “But right now that's not a viable solution. Because of the lawsuit, we need to get the best we can get.
“What you want may not be what you can have. Prairie Township has a different chief than they did then, and a different board, and it became evident that his was the best solution.”
From there, Culpepper said, the object became a new fire station, and the proposed location is ideal.
“If my house is on fire or I'm having a heart attack, to have someone that close is a big advantage,” she said. “They (Prairie Township) have come to realize their response times were not quick, and I worked with the city and worked with my fellow councilmen and expressed to them how important it was to the residents of south Blue Springs.
“We all have the same goals; just sometimes we don't agree on how to get there.”
The idea of consolidating Prairie Township and Lotawana districts has been discussed or desired to some degree for awhile, Large said, but never gained traction until the Prairie Township had some changeover and he was offered the chance to lead both departments.
“There's some opposition, but for the most part it's positive and supportive,” he said of residents' response to the proposed merger. “There had been a battle back and forth, but we finally have a plan, and now that we're attempting to do something, they're listening.
“This is kind of what the arguments have been: People think we're not doing a bad service, it just takes too long.”