OPINION

Independence voters can say yes to more for police and fire service

The Examiner

Independence voters on Tuesday have the chance to improve police and fire service in the community. Both questions on the ballot are worthy of yes votes. 

Question 1 would mean more money for fire protection. It would raise the city's one-eighth-cent sales tax for fire service to half a cent and make the tax permanent rather than requiring periodic voter approval. 

That would mean an added $6 million a year for firefighters and equipment, according to the city, and the list of needs is long. The city has grown and service calls are up significantly, but funding has remained flat and the city actually has fewer firefighters and fewer units than it did 30 years ago. 

The city would renovate or move three fire stations on the east side of the city that officials say have been in service far past their designed use, and the city would add a station. The money also would pay for an added pumper and for added firefighters. Paying firefighter salaries out of this tax would ease the strain on the city's strained general fund. 

Question 2 is for police service. It would not raise taxes but would free money to hire and retain officers. 

Here's what happened: Two years ago, voters approved a so-called use tax, which is nothing more than applying the city's regular sales taxes to online sales just as with brick-and-mortar sales. That was fair and overdue. Officials promised that half of the money would go to the animal shelter and half for police – with the growth in revenues over time going to add 30 cops. The city conservatively estimated that would take up to 19 years. 

Then the pandemic came, pushing lots of people to embrace online shopping and – boom – the use tax took off. Now the city has money it can't spend because, in line with a nationwide pattern, IPD has 30-plus unfilled officer slots on the current  authorized roster, so the department can't even get to the point of adding positions. 

Question 2 would fix that, giving the city more flexibility in spending the use tax money. (Funding for the animal shelter is at a fixed rate, and that wouldn't change.) 

The Police Department is also facing an expected wave of retirements in the coming years, and police make the case that the city needs to add good officers now to be ready for tomorrow's needs. They say IPD's pay advantage over other departments in the area has waned. 

A generation ago, the city struggled at times to get voter approval for sales taxes dedicated to such things as streets, parks and public. But it adopted a winning formula – citizen oversight committees that report periodically to elected officials and the public on how the taxpayers' money is being spent. 

Ballot issues such as these pose simple questions: How much do we pay, what do we get, and will our money be spent wisely and well? The city has built a good track record, and the community is better off with better services. Voting yes on these two ballot measures would continue that progress.