Independence Co. to disperse first checks from fire sales tax

INDEPENDENCE COUNTY, AR (KAIT) – Voters in IndependenceCounty approved a half-cent sales tax in 2012 to benefit all the local firedepartments.

The county began collecting revenue on the sales tax thismonth and mailed out the first checks Friday, prompting the fire chiefs tobegin planning how to spend their first payments.

The fire chief for Pleasant Plains Area Volunteer FireDepartment, Stacey Caplener, says the money will allow his department and othersto modernize. He plans to use the money to replace outdated equipment and makechanges to better protect the people in the area.

"We've got so many things we need, and it's going to taketime to get all those things we need," Caplener said.

He campaigned hard last year to get the sales tax approvedin Independence County.

"We went door-to-door in our fire districts and thanked thepeople of Independence County for allowing us to look in the future and bringthis county's fire service into the millennium," Caplener said.

The sales tax generated $198,714.89 in June alone, accordingto the Independence County Treasurer's Office. That means the followingdepartments should receive a check next week worth $12,717.75: Batesville,Bethesda, Charlotte, Cord, Cushman, Desha, Floral, Northside, Newark, OilTrough, Pleasant Plains, Ruddell Hill, Southside, Sulphur Rock and UnionHill-Thida.

Even though they are located outside Independence County,the fire departments in Cave City and Saffell will also receive funds for respondingto fires within the county, too. Cave City will receive a check for $3,179.42,while the Saffell gets $794.86 this month.

"We're all going to camp out at the post office and get it,I guess," Caplener said about the checks, laughing.

He plans to use the first payment to Pleasant Plains to helpfinish building the department's new tanker truck. Some money will also be setaside so that the firefighter can get new turnout gear.

"Ours is nine years old now," Caplener said. "It gets dry-rottedafter wash after wash and then the fire retardant comes out of it, so we needto replace the turnouts right now."

Future payments will help the department finish expandingthe fire station, too.

"We're in a three-bay building here and we've got fourtrucks, so we need room," Caplener said.

The new revenue may also allow the department to man itsfire station year-round, something it's been unable to do before now.

"We're going to be good stewards of this money," Caplenersaid. "We appreciate the county people trusting us enough to do this because wewill do it right."

With this new revenue coming continually each month,Pleasant Plains has decided to eliminate its annual fire dues. People will nolonger have to pay $35 each year for fire service and protection.

Caplener says his town is not the only one that has institutedthis change. He says several have now done away with their fire dues as well.

The fire sales tax will remain temporarily on the books as ahalf-cent for the next five years, but will then permanently drop to aquarter-cent after that time.

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