Bloomfield eyes election on proposed tax raise

Joshua Kellogg
Ian Rutter, an engineer with the Bloomfield Fire Department, checks the water pressure on a fire engine at the start of the shift on March 4 at the Bloomfield Fire Department.

BLOOMFIELD — The Bloomfield City Council is proceeding with plans to hold a special election that would allow voters to weigh in on a proposed tax increase to cover the cost of maintaining the current level of staffing at the Bloomfield Fire Department.

During a special work session Monday evening, councilors directed City Attorney Ryan Lane to put together an ordinance for the city to hold a special election to increase its gross receipts tax. The council must still vote on whether or not to approve the ordinance before an election can be scheduled.

The council tabled pursuing the special election at its Feb. 21 meeting.

Bloomfield Fire Chief George Duncan said after Monday's meeting that he was pleased with the council's actions.

“I think it was the best course of action for the council to put it out to the public,” Duncan said.

The fire department has been paying its firefighters with a $1 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant — set to expire in May — increased the number of paid firefighters in Bloomfield from three to 10.

If approved, the tax increase is projected to provide about $570,000 in revenue annually. That would cover the $450,000 needed to pay the salaries of the seven additional firefighters the city has employed.

Councilors plan to decide at future budget meetings how to spend the remaining $120,000 in revenue.

Assistant Fire Chief John Mohler and Duncan started Monday's meeting by giving a presentation on how the current staffing at the fire department has improved response times as the number of fire and medical calls have increased.

The councilors also voiced their opinions about the uncertainty of the economy and their desire to ensure city facilities, like the sewer and water plants, are properly maintained. If voters approve the tax increase, it would be the last increase the city could make to its gross receipts tax rate.

Public Works Director Jason Thomas said during the meeting that the operations and maintenance costs for the city’s sewage plant will likely increase as parts have to be custom made for the aging facility. He also said the structure, which was built in 1979, has developed cracks in its concrete walls.

“This is one of the hardest decisions I think, since I’ve been here, we’ve had to tackle,” Councilor Curtis Lynch said.

City Manager Eric Strahl spoke about the details of the possible special election. The election would need to take place between July 28 and Sept. 18 to avoid conflicts with general and primary elections later this year. It could cost $5,000 to $6,000.

If voters pass it it, the gross receipts tax would take effect on Jan. 1, 2017, and the city could start to see the new revenue in March 2017, according to Strahl.

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