City hopes educated public will approve sales tax
Beatrice officials hope that educating the public about a proposed sales tax will help their chances of building a new fire station.
The City Council previously decided to place a sales tax item on the November ballot that, if approved, would generate funds to build a new fire station.
The additional half-cent sales tax would generate around $1 million annually and be removed once the station is paid off or in 10 years.
To enlighten voters of these issues, Fire and Rescue Chief Brian Daake gave a presentation during Tuesday’s candidate forum event and an open house was held at the station on Wednesday, with more open house events to come.
The big question about the proposed station is where it would be built. Daake said officials decided not to pursue a final location until after the election. Four potential sites are being considered for the station. These locations are not being made public, though Daake said two of the most rumored sites are not being considered.
“It has been decided that we’re not going to move forward with negotiations for any of these properties until after the election because it’s a lot of work,” he said. “It’s a lot of labor and some of the properties in central Beatrice have more than one property owner. We’re waiting to see if the voters approve this or not and then we’ll go forward from there. Dempsters is not one of these four locations and also the Store Kraft location is not one of these options.”
Daake also stressed that designs for a new fire station by JEO Consulting Group are just concepts and that the final design has not been decided.
City officials say there’s a serious need for a new station, largely due to space constraints at the current department in the city auditorium.
“The last time the City of Beatrice built a fire station was in 1910,” Daake said. “It’s been 108 years since a facility has been built, designated for a fire station. In 1965 we moved into the basement of the city auditorium. That was supposed to be a temporary move. 53 years later we’re still here, serving the community as best we can with the limitations we have within that facility.”
In 1965, the department had five vehicles to store in the building. Today, there are 14 vehicles and a trailer in the auditorium, with two more trailers outside.
Trucks and ambulances are essentially bumper to bumper in the building, which has columns in the center that trucks have to navigate around.
The congestion is impacting response times, especially if the hazardous material response truck is needed. Getting to this truck requires moving four other vehicles and a trailer first.
And the department is using its vehicles more than ever before. Daake said in 1995, Beatrice Fire and Rescue responded to around 1,400 calls for service, mostly EMS responses. Last year was the department’s busiest to date with 2,782 calls. Daake said Beatrice Fire and Rescue is on pace to surpass this number in 2018.
Daake said the vehicles are parked so close to each other the doors can’t all be fully opened, making vehicle checks difficult.
Departments today also face sanitation requirements that didn’t exist 50 years ago, forcing them to clean some equipment and supplies outside.
The current city sales tax is 1.5 percent, and would be raised to 2 percent if approved in November. This would bring the total sales tax to 7.5 percent.
Daake said on an average fast food meal the tax would amount to three extra cents. It would generate 50 cents on a $100 purchase.
The sales tax item will be on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.