Smart Decision 2014: Prop 1 poses tax to fund police, fire crews
COLUMBIA - The City of Columbia wants to raise property taxes to help pay for more police officers and firefighters. The city is asking voters to decide on Proposition One, which would increase the tax rate by 30 cents per $100 valuation phased in over a five-year period.
Former Columbia Mayor Bob Pugh, who opposes the measure, said the city shouldn't be asking people to pay for things that are supposed to be basic services.
"Pay for the policemen and firemen and roads and bridges first and if you got any money left over you can spend it on something else. And if you don't have enough money and you think it's something worthwhile doing, you can ask the voters to approve it or not approve it," said Pugh. "It's curious the people have never been asked to voted on certain, what I call luxuries, and now we're being asked to vote on a fundamental obligation of the city government."
However the fire department said it needs to money because it's understaffed and unable to respond to all calls in the standard four minutes or less.
Battalion Chief Brad Fraizer said, "As the city continues to grow, the fire department staffing and the number of stations that we have, have remained the same and we're seeing a trend upward in response times."
The map below shows the area each fire station is supposed to cover.
However the below map shows the actual current coverage.
City officials said Proposition One would pay for the salaries, equipment and training of an additional 55 public safety staff members over the course of five years. Fifteen of those 55 would be firefighters, which Frazier said would allow the fire department to fully staff its stations and cut down on response times.
One of the stations that would benefit is Station Two. Engine two at that station is operational less than half of time of a normal engine. Fraizer said new firefighters would let the department keep the engine in operation 100 percent of the time.
Fraizer said the money would also be used to help build a new Station 10, to help deal with a continually expanding city.
The police department said 40 new police officers would help cut down on status zero, a situation when every officer on duty is responding to a call at the same time.
KOMU previously reported the Columbia Police Department reaches status zero multiple times a day.
Mayor Bob McDavid told KOMU the police department is 30 or 40 percent understaffed compared to similar-sized cities.
Some people have suggested increasing the sales tax instead of the property tax. But McDavid and Public Safety Committee Chair Karen Taylor said Internet shopping has caused the sales tax to decline. A property tax increase is seen by the city as a more reliable option.