Two years after a public safety sales tax measure was turned down by Republic residents, a refined version is back on the ballot.
City leaders say Proposition S focuses solely on aiding the Republic police and fire departments by providing funds for additional staffing, adjusting pay to be more competitive with area municipalities and improving retirement benefits. The three-quarter-cent sales tax would generate over $2.1 million in additional revenue for the city in its first year, and it’s designed with a 25-year sunset. The fiscal estimate is based on current city sales tax projections and an assumption of 2% annual growth, said City Administrator David Cameron.
If approved by voters on Aug. 3, the city’s sales tax rate would increase to 9.1% from its current 8.35%. Cameron said a sales tax is a more equitable way to fund the issue than property taxes as visitors also would contribute.
“This particular issue has to be addressed. I don’t want to consider property taxes because I believe that would be infringing on what the school district needs,” he said.
Voters in April approved a $16 million bond issue for Republic schools to fund construction projects, including an early childhood center, and a property purchase for a new school building. The district sought the bond issue to address expected upticks in student enrollment the next few years, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting. City officials estimate the population will increase to nearly 24,400 in 2026. That’d be a 44% increase over Republic’s 2019 population of 16,938, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent data.
The 2019 ballot issue proposed a 1-cent sales tax increase to provide additional public safety resources, such as hiring more firefighters and police officers. However, Cameron said the ballot language also noted funds would improve public infrastructure, pay off debts and provide additional city services.
Roughly 57% of voters rejected the issue, and from feedback Cameron sought after the election, he learned that was too many things to seek.
“We made it about public safety, made it three-quarters-cent, put a sunset on it and put it back out there,” he said of Proposition S. “In listening to the community, that’s the way they wanted it presented. I believe this was a reasonable undertaking considering our growth and development.”
The new sales tax would allow the city to add 14 more firefighters and 12 police officers. Retirement benefits for all employees in both departments would increase by 9% to become more regionally competitive, and pay also would be boosted. Republic police officer starting pay currently is $34,528, and firefighters begin at $33,451, Cameron said, noting the increase would be 6% for police and 5% for fire personnel.
The Fire Department currently employs 20, while 24 staff the Police Department. Cameron said budget constraints have restricted adding to the departments for around 15 years. According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, two officers are recommended for every 1,000 residents. That makes the city about 12 officers short based on its current population.
Republic doesn’t have a dedicated property tax for fire protection as do several nearby cities in Greene and Christian counties, Cameron said. In those communities, the fire district property tax levies on $100 assessed valuation are 74 cents in Willard, 73 cents in Nixa, 63 cents in Ozark and 57 cents in Battlefield, according to the Greene County and Christian County collector websites.
“The mechanism to fund the Fire Department isn’t there for us,” Cameron said. “It all comes down to the general use tax we generate.”
Making a sacrifice
Macy Mitchell, owner of CrossFit Republic LLC and chief operations officer of All-American Home Rental Sales, said paying higher taxes is a sacrifice business owners need to weigh carefully before voting. While Mitchell questions if the proposed 9.1% tax rate could mean some people might hesitate to patronize Republic, he said the need to improve public safety is a necessary trade-off.
“When you look at what that provides for a growing community knowing that your family is safe, the public is safe and people feel secure, that’s worth a lot when it comes down to it,” he said.
The small-business owner also became executive director of the Republic Area Chamber of Commerce in January, a part-time position. He said the chamber isn’t taking a position on the tax issue.
“I have respectfully not asked or pushed the chamber to take one side or another,” he said. “Everyone can see it differently. The majority of the chamber realizes we’re growing quickly as a community. It may be a sacrifice to have our taxes raised slightly, but it’s worth the positive outcome of having public safety up with other regional areas.”
Mitchell voted in favor of the 2019 tax increase but said he worked hard to determine his opinion on Proposition S.
“I’m at the point where I feel strongly about voting yes,” he said, noting he reviewed the city budget to help guide his decision. “The police and firefighters are working overtime right now, and they are understaffed.”
While Cameron expects some residents to vote against the issue simply because it is a tax increase, he hopes those still on the fence will attend a virtual town hall presentation that will be livestreamed July 27 on the city’s website.
Cameron said roughly 2,000 residential units in town were in some stage of development. He said those additional residents will want to be confident in the availability of police and fire personnel – something that will be more of a challenge if Proposition S doesn’t pass.
“This could very much create a stall in what we’re doing if we’re not careful,” he said of Republic’s growth. “You can’t keep adding more apartments and more housing if you can’t respond to them.”