Pittsburg’s emergency services have a long-term plan to better serve the community’s residents, but it hinges on the vote today, in which residents are asked to decide whether to fund the improvements with a half-cent sales tax throughout the next 10 years.
The Pittsburg Fire Department and Pittsburg Police Department both have faced increasing costs, tight budgets and declining grants over the past several years.
Pittsburg Fire Chief Mike Simmons said traditionally bunker gear, new pumper trucks and other equipment has been funded, at least in part, through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"They’ve had a 47 percent reduction in federal funding to the AFG program," Simmons said. "It’s extremely difficult to acquire the grants. There’s just not the money there used to be."
Similarly, the Pittsburg Police Department recognizes that its staffing levels have not been what they should be for a long time.
"What brought it to the forefront and moved it to a point beyond discussion was we were seeing social problems on a level that we’ve never seen before," said Pittsburg Police Chief Mendy Hulvey. "That’s a real challenge. We’re so inundated with issues facing our immediate attention that are not necessarily crime, but require our intervention. It falls on our doorstep more and more often."
Together, the two agencies have asked for an annual increase of $1.3 million, with the fire department receiving about $200,000 annually to help with equipment upgrades, and the PPD receiving about $800,000 for staffing and equipment and $300,000 to upgrade technology.
The 0.5 percent sales tax is actually expected to raise about $1.8 million each year, and the remainder will be put into an emergency fund and help to cover increases in costs such as pensions, health costs and planned raises.
While most see the department’s requests as appropriate, disagreement about the method has been expressed.
"What they’re saying needs to be done needs to be done. It just needs to be done in a different way," said Steve Robb, an area citizen who organized the SEK Art Fest this summer. "I’m not against patrols and I’m not against the fire department replacing air packs on a regular basis. But it needs to be managed in a sustainable manner. The only way to do that is through property tax."
However, Pittsburg City Manager Daron Hall said the sales tax is the more appropriate way to fund the issue, based on the fact that Pittsburg’s properties are about 50 percent rental and due to the influx of people from outside into the area.
"We could rely only on property owners, but it affects all of us, even those who come to visit," Hall said. "Everything we do in economic development with property tax tells us that it is not a good source for anything. It’s one of our economic incentives (to not pay property taxes for businesses to move or expand). Everything we do is to not raise the property tax."
The election is being paid for by the City of Pittsburg, and Crawford County Clerk Don Pyle said the cost is about $12,000, including renting locations, paying poll workers, postage on advance ballots, legal notices and help in the office.