Thursday, Jan. 23, City Councilmembers voted 10-2 to put a sales tax increase before Kansas City voters in April.
If approved, it would double the current Fire Sales Tax from one-fourth percent to one-half percent, bringing in an additional $21 million per year.
The funds would go toward capital improvements, including protective safety gear, new ambulances, station repair, and radio replacement.
Councilman Eric Bunch (4th District) and Councilwoman Melissa Robinson (3rd District) voted no; Mayor Lucas was not present for the vote.
Currently, there is a one-fourth percent sales tax that will remain in effect until December 31, 2036, regardless of whether the increase is approved in April.
However, a need for new equipment, protective gear, and fire station maintenance has prompted the request for an increase in funds.
In clothing alone, Councilwoman Katheryn Shields said the department was looking at a $4 million need.
“I don’t know where out of the budget we are going to come up with $4 million for safety gear if we don’t make a case and ask the voters to approve this,” she said.
Some council members questioned the rush of passing the ordinance, saying it did not give them enough time to fully discuss the tax, but because of an impending deadline from the election boards, if the question were to make it to the April ballot, it had to be passed during that session.
Shields stood in full support of the tax, remembering her time on City Council in 1988 when six firefighters were killed in an explosion at a highway construction site at Highway 71 and 87th Street.
“Since that day, since the death of those six firefighters, I made sure that in my actions, that everything I can do to make our fire department safe, our fire personnel safe, I am going to do that.”
Robinson, who voted no, said she thought more time was needed to discuss the issue.
“This is something we haven’t had a lot of time to work out the details on and this is a clear example of why we should caution ourselves in taking these steps. We do want to make sure we are getting these things right before they go before the voters.”
Eric Bunch, 4th District Councilman, echoed Robinson’s concern.
“We are talking about raising $20 million a year through a sales tax,” he said. “This is such a large ask of the public and we as a council have the duty to vet these ordinances and decide what goes to the ballot. It’s a big red flag for me.”
Addressing the issue of rushing to pass the ordinance, Shields said putting it on the April ballot would be helpful for budget purposes.
“I think April is a great time because it gives us time to know if the voters approve it before we have actually committed ourselves in the budget. No time is ever perfect, but I really care about our firefighters, I care about the danger that they face every day,” she said. “I’m standing here today on the side of our firefighters and for the safety and life of those firefighters.”
The sales tax increase will be placed before voters on April 7, 2020.