BAXTER COUNTY, Ark. – Folks in Mountain Home, Arkansas are set to vote on a new sales tax proposal for the first time in more than 30 years.
If approved, a 3/8 cent sales tax would be used to fund public safety, specifically the city’s police and fire departments. The tax equals 38 cents on $100 worth of groceries and would generate roughly $1.7 million annual for the city.
“This [squad car] is one that was purchased by a couple individuals in the community,” says Mountain Home Police Lieutenant, Eric Neal.
Neal says if it wasn’t for the help of donations from private citizens, the police department wouldn’t have a new model Ford in its fleet. In fact, the latest Fords purchased with taxpayer money are older models that came from Hot Springs, Arkansas with 80,000 miles on the odometer.
“They are good cars we’re glad to have them,” he says. “But due to budgeting, we were unable to buy replacement cars that we had in existence.”
It’s a similar story down the road at the Mountain Home Fire Department, except the vehicles there are on an older rotation.
“We’ve got some rigs that are 30-something years old,” says Chief Ken Williams. “And they are quite expensive to maintain and upkeep so that’s always a challenge.”
Williams says over the last 15 years, fire and EMS calls have risen by 80 percent while staffing has risen 10 percent, due in part to an increase in visitation and the community’s aging population.
It is part of the reason why firefighters like Travis Dover, who is the president of the local firefighters association, began the push last year to put a new sales tax before voters.
The tax that currently helps fund both the police and fire departments was passed in 1981. Part of the money generated from that tax is also used for sewer and roads.
“What [this tax] would do for the citizens would be able to put us in their doorstep minutes sooner,” says Dover, “with the appropriate amount of staffing, to be able to mitigate whatever type of incident they have.”
“It can and will save lives,” says Mountain Home Mayor, Joe Dillard.
Dillard knows for many in the community, tax is a four letter word. The tax that will go before voters in September could also be followed by another law enforcement-related tax the following year that would help increase the size of the Baxter County Jail.
“But at the same time, [taxes are] a necessity,” he says. “If you look at school taxes, highway taxes, your local taxes, the people can actually reach out and touch what we do.”
“We just wanted to give this opportunity to let the people make the choice,” Dillard says.
Money generated from the tax would be used to hire additional staffing at both departments – the police department has had to cut positions of animal control and code enforcing – improve the vehicle replacement cycles, and add new fire stations in the future.
The issue will go before voters on September 12.