Vote on Jackson sales tax may affect insurance rates for homeowners, businesses

Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Capt. Steve Baugh, public information officer with the Jackson Fire Department, speaks with Emily Cannon, left, Courtney and Jarrett Baker, and Eva Cannon, right, about a firetruck Sunday during the department's open house. Eva Cannon said she brought her daughter and two friends to the open house because "we wanted to check out the place. It's a good thing for the kids to do. It's good for them to learn more." (Laura Simon)

In next week's election, Jackson voters will be asked to consider a quarter-cent sales tax to fund operations at the city's current and proposed fire station.

While city officials and fire department personnel have said the city's growth in recent years has strained the department, insurance rates for property owners across the city could increase if an additional fire station is not built.

Jackson fire chief Jason Mouser said the city's last insurance evaluation from the Insurance Service Office, or ISO, was in 2005. At that time the ISO told the city that if an additional fire station was not built before the next evaluation in 2015, it was possible the city would lose its current ISO rating of four, which would mean higher insurance rates.

In a survey, several Jackson insurance agents said a rating of five could result in a 12 to 15 percent increase in insurance rates for Jackson businesses and homeowners.

The ISO said the new station should be on the east side of town, if possible, because it is farthest away from the current station, and it is the city's fastest growing area.

Jackson business owner Palmi Henry said since moving her restaurant Ms. Muffin's Cafe from uptown Jackson to East Main Street, she has seen the growth on that side of town.

"There are a lot of people in the area," Henry said. "I'd say 95 percent of our business here has been new customers who stop by and say they are neighbors. I am shocked how many people live and work here."

She said she supports the second station and does not think the additional tax will hurt her business, especially considering the total tax will still be lower than the sales tax in Cape Girardeau.

If the tax passes, the total sales tax in Jackson would be 6.750 percent, which is lower than the taxes in surrounding areas. Cape Girardeau's is 7.795 percent, Perryville's is 7.725 percent and Sikeston's in Scott County is 7.725 percent and Sikeston's in New Madrid County is 7.975 percent.

One of Henry's customers, John Lewis of Jackson, lost his house in May 2009 to a fire. He said while a second station may not have saved his house, he supports the tax and has already voted by absentee ballot in its support.

The proposed second station would be on land owned by the city on Old Orchard Road near the east water tower. Jackson Mayor Barbara Lohr said the land was purchased years ago when the tower was constructed and that she considers the city lucky to have the land at its disposal.

"Because of the location, the original owner of the land wanted us to purchase the entire tract," Lohr said. "We are now fortunate that the remnant from that tract is sufficient for our satellite fire station."

The site is in a tax increment financing district, and money from that fund will finance the construction of the station. The committee that researched the additional station estimated the construction cost at $300,000.

With the land already owned and the building construction financed through TIF money, the proposed quarter-cent tax would solely support operations, which includes purchasing equipment and hiring personnel, at both stations. Once the second station is operational, a three-man crew would be on duty at all times at both fire stations.

Lohr said if the tax is rejected by voters, there is no alternative plan for building and financing the satellite station.

"If the tax is turned down, the voters will have determined that we do not need another fire station," she said. "The consequences of this action are increased response times as our city continues to grow and the possibility of increased insurance premiums for homeowners and businesses in Jackson. The will of the people is the final decision."

cbartholomew@semissourian.com

243-8600

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