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Update: New fire district should mean improved service

Mike Genet

Residents in the Prairie Township and Lotawana fire districts approved a merger Tuesday, which will create the Southern Jackson County Fire Protection District.

Proponents said a new consolidated fire district will lead to better use of shared resources and better response times in certain areas where one district's station is closer than the current district station. The Prairie Township district includes a portion of southern Blue Springs, where some citizens for years have grumbled about response times from the district’s station at Langsford and Milton-Thompson roads just east of Lee's Summit. The Lotawana station is on Lotawana Road just south of Colbern Road, on the north side of Lake Lotawana.

Prairie Township voters approved the merger 59 percent to 41 percent, or 916 yes votes to 633 no. Lotawana voters gave heartier approval – 555 yes votes (78 percent) to 160 no.

“This has been talked about in the area for 25 years or so, and to finally get it to come to this point, it’s a big hurdle,” said Chief Bill Large, the longtime Lotawana chief who has also led the Prairie Township district for four years now.

The Southern Jackson County Fire Protection District will have a property tax levy of $1.04 per $100 of assessed valuation – Prairie Township’s current levy. That is 1 cent below Lotawana’s current levy.

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 (extending 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.

Large said the new consolidated district will be created as soon as voting results get certified, and the two governing boards will have various legal documents to work through.

“There’s some changes that can be done now,” Large said, “but with hiring of new employees we have to wait until money starts coming in in January.”

Right now, between the two fire districts, Large said, there are 40 to 50 full-time and part-time employees.

Two years ago, the fire districts had asked voters for a merger, but the ballot also included separate contingent questions for bonds to pay for a new station in Prairie Township’s area, as well as a sales tax and accompanying property tax rollback for additional revenue. Voters turned back all the questions. This ballot did not include any question tax or levy question.

Large said the Prairie Township district has had long-term plans for additional stations off Wyatt Road in Blue Springs – the city bought the land to be leased for that purpose – and just south of U.S. 50. A merger, he said last week, could allow plans to move more quickly.