There was one thing members of the Blue Springs City Council could agree on regarding the concern that Blue Springs residents could potentially be double taxed on ambulance service - it was not a legal issue, but a moral and ethical one.

There was one thing members of the Blue Springs City Council could agree on regarding the concern that Blue Springs residents could potentially be double taxed on ambulance service - it was not a legal issue, but a moral and ethical one.

Monday’s special session was called after Councilman Ron Fowler suggested that if a property tax increase being proposed by the Central Jackson County Fire Protection District is approved next week, that the city of Blue Springs should roll back its property taxes. Otherwise, he said, Blue Springs residents would be taxed again for a service they are already paying for.

Fowler has pointed to a 1974 election where community members approved a 1 cent sales tax increase. Although the sales tax revenue goes into the general fund, a major advertising point of the election was to fund ambulance service. In fact one of the mottos used during the election was “A penny could save your life.”

In 1992, the city of Blue Springs opted to “get out of the ambulance business.” While they retained the license to provide EMS services, CJC took over operations. A large part of CJC’s $2.5 million budget, about $1.4 million, comes from fees collected for emergency services. Another $300,000 comes from the fire levy. The city of Blue Springs subsidizes the remaining $700,000 to $800,000.

The property tax increase election Aug. 6 is part of an effort to help shift all EMS costs to CJC. If the 15 cent levy increase is approved, it will take three years to be fully implemented. At that point, the city’s responsibility will end, leaving potentially an additional $700,000 per year in unallocated funds.

Fowler would like to see the city roll back the property tax levy, not because of a legal obligation, but a moral one. A rough estimate as to what that would equate to for each taxpayer is an additional $13 a year, depending on what numbers are used.

“This is a tax increase for something that has already been passed,” he said. “I say this is duplicate taxation. This is a moral and ethical issue. If we are not going to roll back taxes, then there should be an explanation as to why citizens should pay twice for a service they are already paying for.”

Both Councilman Jeff Quibell and Councilman Dale Carter pointed out repeatedly that the 1974 sales tax was not an “ambulance tax.” While ambulance services were used to advertise the election, the sales tax revenues were earmarked for the general fund, meaning it is the city council’s discretion to allocate the funds for the services most important at the time.

“I do get how it looks like double taxation,” Carter said. “But there is no evidence that this tax was ever tied to the ambulance service.”

Councilman Chris Lievsay said the issue is more of a budgetary one. He said that until the council sees hard numbers as to what the city’s needs are moving forward and what exactly the potential windfall in revenues will be, no decision should be made.

“We have a fiduciary responsibility to do our best with the money given to us,” Lievsay said. “I don’t really see a connection between what CJC is doing and the discussion we are having because it really concerns our own city budget. What do we do with the money left over. There may be room for that (a tax levy rollback), but I don’t think we have the information right now to make that decision.”

Mayor Carson Ross said the CJC election will not only relieve the city of Blue Springs of financial responsibility, but will also make paying for the service more fair and equitable. The property tax increase would affect anyone in the CJC coverage area including Grain Valley, Lake Tapawingo and unincorporated Jackson County. If the issue fails, the city would have to consider multiple options including keeping the agreement with CJC or going through a bidding process for EMS services. That means that CJC might not be retained as the service provider.

“If you want hard numbers, I look at the Capital Improvement Projects budget that the City Council unanimously approved July 1. In that document, there are $146.5 million worth of unfunded projects,” he said. “Also, if the CJC election is successful, we still have to subsidize (EMS services) for three years. We are not going to have this big windfall. This is a three-year process.”

No decision was made during the work session. All of the council members agreed to keep an open mind as to what to do with the additional money if the CJC issue is approved, including considering a tax levy rollback. However, unlike the rest of the council, Fowler said he would not support the CJC issue because he feels it is duplicate taxation.

“Blue Springs residents are getting a tax increase for a service they already had. Blue Springs residents are getting a tax increase for a service they’re already paying taxes for,” he said. “While I appreciate and am proud of CJC ambulance service, as a citizen, I can’t vote myself a tax increase for a service I’m already paying for.”