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Public to vote on new fire station

August 22, 2018

The November ballot will feature an item that could add a half-cent sales tax in Beatrice to fund a new fire station.

The Beatrice City Council voted Monday night to put the item on the Nov. 6 general election ballot. If approved by voters, revenue generated by the sales tax would be used to fund either a new standalone department for Beatrice Fire and Rescue or add on to the current fire department in the city auditorium.

While talks of building a fire station have been ongoing for years, councilman Ted Fairbanks voiced numerous concerns during the discussion, questioning if plans have developed enough to take the issue to the people for a vote.

The city has yet to select a site for the potential fire station or provide a cost estimate for the project.

“You look at everything that’s coming and I’m just really reluctant to vote for it,” Fairbanks said. “You’re not quite sure how you’re going to pay for it, how long it’s going to take, where you’re going to put it or how much it’s going to cost. By me voting for it I’m supporting it, and I’m reluctant to do that.”

Despite his reluctance, the vote to place the item on the ballot was 7-0, with councilman Dwight Parde absent. Six votes were required to place the item on the ballot.

City Administrator Tobias Tempelmeyer said if the ballot item was not approved by the council Monday night it would be nearly two years until it could have been reconsidered since a special election can’t be held. The issue can only be voted on during a primary or general election.

Monday was the council’s last meeting before the deadline to file the issue with the Gage County election commissioner on Sept. 4 to include it on the November ballot.

If approved in November, the sales tax would generate an estimated $600,000 annually and be in place for either 10 years or until the bonds for the fire station are paid off. The current city sales tax is 1.5 percent, and would be raised to two percent if approved in November.

Despite lacking a location or price tag, Mayor Stan Wirth said those issues are being worked on by a consulting group the city hired earlier this year.

“They have some estimates of what it can conceivably cost,” Wirth said. “We hired them, we’re paying them quite a bit of money today and we have to rely on their estimates and designs. We’re getting a lot of input from city administration, the fire department and the rural fire department as what they would like to see in this facility and to make it sustainable for not just 10 years, not just 20 years, make it sustainable for at least 40-50 years.”

The City Council hired JEO Consulting Group in June to begin designs for the proposed fire station, which would replace or add to Beatrice Fire and Rescue’s current facility in the city auditorium.

The current fire station in the city auditorium opened in 1965. The apparatus bay used by Beatrice Fire and Rescue as well as Beatrice Rural Fire isn’t big enough for all the vehicles needed. Beatrice Rural Fire vehicles are also housed in the current fire station.

The current apparatus bay has 6,000 square feet of garage space, but consulting firms have said the department would need anywhere from 10,000-16,000 square feet.

Fire and rescue Chief Brian Daake said he’s planning to help educate the public with town hall meetings and open house events.

Wirth indicated four locations were being considered, though Tempelmeyer added the city will likely make a decision before letting the public know.

“What we would probably do is come back to this body, have an executive session, have you guys talk about those locations and then look to hopefully get places under contract before we go public with it,” he said. “Obviously once we let the public know what area we’re looking at prices have a tendency to adjust.”

Council members indicated they would like to have a site selected before the November election so voters have a better idea what they’re voting on, though it’s unknown if plans will be finalized by November.

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