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Public safety is the focus for proposed sales tax increases in Marshfield and Nixa that will appear before voters on April 4.
Each city has its Police Department targeted as the beneficiary for revenue produced by the tax hike, as leaders from both communities cite a need to boost the law enforcement workforce. City officials say more police officers are needed to patrol the growing cities, adding general revenue is insufficient to properly address department needs.
Marshfield is seeking a 1/2-cent sales tax increase, while Nixa’s proposal is for a 3/4-cent boost.
City officials in Marshfield want a sales tax hike to cover officer recruitment and retention, investment in new equipment and training, and renovation of the Police Department building, which it shares with the Street Department and Municipal Court. If approved, roughly $800,000 in new revenue is expected to be generated annually by the 1/2-cent tax increase, which Mayor Natalie McNish said can be used only for public safety purposes.
“Increasing our public safety has been a main priority of mine,” said McNish, who was first elected as mayor in 2020.
Marshfield’s population is 7,540, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau. It’s up nearly 14% from the 2010 Census.
Police Chief Doug Fannen said he came to the city roughly 20 years ago, noting the population was around 4,600 at that time. The Police Department had 10 officers, and 20 years later, with the population getting closer to 8,000, he said a 12th officer was only recently added.
After checking the worklog from last year, he said the department had at least 200 hours each month where only one police officer was on duty.
“That’s unheard of for a city of our size,” Fannen said, noting when only one officer is on duty, it’s a safety concern for the department and residents. “When someone calls the police, they have a reasonable expectation that help will be there immediately.”
That isn’t always the case if multiple incidents require police response, he said.
“Bottom line is we are very, very understaffed,” he said. “You can’t hire officers if you don’t have that revenue.”
Crime statistics reported by the department for 2022 noted 273 arrests. Of those arrests, 50 were either simple or aggravated assaults. The total arrests last year were up 33% from the amount reported in 2021.
McNish said the Police Department’s 2023 budget is $1.3 million, up from $1.2 million in 2022.
“It is the current Board of Aldermen’s plan to maintain that level of funding for police out of general revenue monies, and then this additional restricted fund would obviously supplement that,” she said, adding that amount would bump up to around $2.1 million.
If the issue passes, the city plans to hire four officers in 2024 with the hopes of adding more in future years, according to officials. Equipment investments also are a target of the additional revenue, as the department seeks to add two additional vehicles to its fleet, expand the maintenance budget, and purchase and replace safety equipment, such as duty vests and radios. Additionally, new in-car and body cameras would be bought, along with upgrading computer equipment.
The 56-year-old building the Police Department shares needs significant repair, officials say. Some of the tax revenue would be used to address needs, including replacement of the roof and HVAC system, repair of leaking walls and remodeling work to expand room to be used by the police.
“We’ve known about the repairs needed to our building for some time,” McNish said, noting there aren’t enough funds in the budget to cover it. “They are at that point where we need to take action. We have to allow space for them to operate effectively and efficiently.”
If approved, the tax increase would be the city’s first since 2005, according to officials.
It’s a second attempt in less than a year for a sales tax increase in Nixa. The city placed a 1-cent general sales tax increase proposal on the November 2022 ballot that sought to fund a $25 million, 80,000-square-foot indoor sports complex for the Nixa Parks & Recreation Department and a $13 million, three-story new headquarters for the Police Department. An additional $1 million was to be added to the budget for 11 additional police officers. Roughly 52% of voters rejected the ballot issue, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.
“One of the things that we heard from the public was they wanted the opportunity to look at the police and parks as separate issues,” said City Administrator Jimmy Liles. “We’re just in a position where public safety is a priority for us, and [City] Council felt it was best to go back as soon as possible to make sure that we meet the Police Department needs.”
Officials say if the measure passes, roughly $3.1 million would be generated in 2024, the first full year of the tax increase. The total is calculated to be just enough to afford the new officers, make the bond debt payments for the headquarters construction and maintain the larger building.
Liles said the Police Department doesn’t have its own dedicated funding source and is the most expensive agency funded by general sales tax revenues. Last year, the general sales tax revenue was $3.6 million, but the city spent $4.3 million for Police Department operations.
“Obviously, we’re upside down. We can’t continue to operate that way,” he said. “That’s why we’re asking the public to consider that 3/4-cent tax. It is expensive, and public safety does cost a lot of money.”
As the ballot issue is a general sales tax, he said the increase would equate to an extra 75 cents per every $100 spent.
Nixa Police responded to roughly 36,000 calls last year, Liles said.
“To meet the call load for a city our size, we really need about 11 more officers,” he said. “We currently have 42 full-time officers with only 30 of those being on patrol. We really need about 53 for our current call load.”
Nixa’s population is 24,137, according to U.S. Census Bureau data – roughly double the residents who lived there 20 years ago, city officials say.
“We’ve not been able to add any officers for the last three years because we’ve just not been able to afford to do so,” Liles said.
According to 2022 crime statistics reported by the Police Department, there were 223 arrests, 51 of which were either simple or aggravated assaults. Another 67 arrests involved drug violations. The total arrests last year were up from the 214 reported in 2021.
The new headquarters would be built on city property and would replace the department’s home since the early 1990s at 715 W. Center St. At 35,700 square feet, it would be triple the size of its current space, according to past reporting. Two of its three floors would be fully occupied with the top floor left unfinished to allow for future growth.
The addition of officers would be phased in over several years, Liles said.
“We’re really looking at the next 20 years with this general sales tax,” he said. “We want to be able to build a facility that not only meets our needs today but will meet our needs for space in the Police Department for the next 20 years.”
Another defeat at the polls would lead to “some very difficult decisions,” Liles said, noting some services in unnamed city departments might be eliminated or reduced to try and alleviate pressure on the Police Department.
“My concern is if it fails, we’re going to have to look at cuts across multiple departments,” he said.
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