BRANSON, Mo. — Branson’s fire and police officials say the community’s safety is at risk, as they have very limited department resources to work with.
In an effort to change that, the City of Branson is asking voters to approve a half-cent public safety sales tax. Branson visitors would pay the majority of the tax, which is about 80%, and residents would pay the other 20%.
Branson’s Assistant Police Chief Eric Schmitt says it’s hard for suspects to take officers seriously when they’re being tested for a DUI, right next to someone’s BLT.
“We can have officers in here holding roll call or eating lunch, and that’s our breathalizer, right over there,” Schmitt said, pointing to the break room counter.
So, Schmitt’s hoping voters won’t take the tax proposal with a grain of salt.
“One of the confusing things we hear is, ‘well you have all this money for the tourism tax, why can’t you reach into some of the money that was used on 76,'” Schmitt said.
To add to the break room basket, he says that’s a matter of apples and oranges.
“We cannot, by law, even touch that for any general revenue items, which the police and fire department are,” he said.
And without additional funding, Fire Chief Ted Martin says his crew can react to calls, but won’t have the resources to be proactive.
“It drives responders to go to calls, and then immediately to the next call, and the next call,” he said.
If approved, the police department would build a new station, adding more school resource officers and detectives. The fire department would also benefit by building new stations, which hasn’t happened since the last one was built in 1999.
“Up to the north by Branson Hills, and the Branson schools, our response times are way outside the perimeters of national standards,” Martin said.
Meanwhile, during a tour of the police department, Schmitt opened a room the size of a janitor’s closet.
“This is where we keep our guns and drugs,” he said.
Similarly, the women’s locker room is packed pretty tight.
As both departments say they’re running out of juice, they’re sending a message to voters: they have plenty of apples, but not enough oranges for a full glass.
Some opponents of the sales tax say, even though the funds are separate from the tourism tax, it’s still money of their pocket, and they’re hesistant to raise taxes at all.
That vote will happen on Nov. 7.