Bloomfield weighs possible tax increase

Joshua Kellogg
From left, Bloomfield Fire Department Chief George Duncan and Assistant Fire Chief John Mohler speak to the Bloomfield City Council during a meeting on Feb. 22 at Bloomfield City Hall.

BLOOMFIELD — The Bloomfield City Council will hold a special meeting next month to continue discussing a possible gross receipts tax to cover the cost of operating the city's fire department at its current level.

The council voted Tuesday night to table action on developing a resolution to hold a special election that would allow voters to determine whether or not to increase the city’s gross receipt tax by one-quarter of 1 percent.

A meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. March 7 in the council chambers to discuss the possible tax, as well as other options, to fund the city's fire department as a $1 million federal grant runs out.

Bloomfield was awarded the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, grant in early 2014, which allowed the city to increase the number of paid firefighters from three to 10. The grant awarded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency is set to expire in May, said Fire Chief George Duncan.

City Manager Eric Strahl said the proposed increase in gross receipts taxes could bring in about $570,000 annually. The fire department needs about $450,000 to pay the additional seven firefighters the federal grant covered.

Bloomfield Mayor Scott Eckstein listens to Bloomfield Fire Department Assistant Fire Chief John Mohler, left, and Fire Chief George Duncan during a City Council meeting Monday at Bloomfield City Hall.

Duncan told councilors they need to make a decision soon about whether to hold a special election or whether to have the fire department reapply for the SAFER grant. The deadline to apply for the grant is March 15.

“We need to do it, it just needs to be done,” Duncan said about pursuing the new gross receipts tax. “We need to put it out to the public and let them vote.”

Councilor Matt Pennington said he has no problem with the residents voting on the tax, but he reinforced how the new gross receipts tax would max out the city’s tax capacity.

If voters approve a new gross receipts tax, it would be the last GRT increase the city could pass for general city expenses, Finance Director Brad Ellsworth said.

Pennington said maxing out the tax capacity could hurt the city as its infrastructure continues to age and in the event that something like the city’s water or sewage plant requires emergency repairs.

“Sooner or later we’ll have to do some serious, not only upgrades, but replacements,” Pennington said.

Bloomfield City Manager Eric Strahl, second from the left,  addresses the Bloomfield City Council on Monday during a meeting at Bloomfield City Hall. Pictured from left are Mayor Pro-tem Curtis Lynch, Strahl, Mayor Scott Eckstein and Councilman Elwin Roark.

The expanded force of 10 firefighters has improved the fire department’s average response time and increased the number of structures saved, Assistant Fire Chief John Mohler said.

The average response time is down from 7 minutes and 8 seconds before the grant to 4 minutes and 44 seconds since the grant was secured, according to Mohler.

Duncan said 10 firefighters are needed to ensure that there are three firefighters on duty at all times.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.