Volunteer fire dept. building new station with sales tax revenue - KAIT-Jonesboro, AR-News, weather, sports

Volunteer fire dept. building new station with sales tax revenue

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BATESVILLE, AR (KAIT) – Independence County now mails out sizable checks each month to all the county's fire departments.

The money comes from revenue collected off a half-cent sales tax approved last year, and one volunteer department is already putting the funds to good use.

Shortly before the sales tax vote last November, the Northside Volunteer Fire Department in Batesville learned it's losing its main fire station, but not by choice. Now, all the revenue the department receives is helping it build a brand new home.

Construction crews may have only begun building a new fire station for Northside last week, but the workers are already pressed for time. That's because the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD) gave the firefighters a deadline to get out of their current facility.

"They're going to require us to be out by the end of the year, December 31," said Barry Wilkes, who serves as chairman of the fire department's building committee. "We've got until then to have a station built, so we have everything out. We've got to be out by midnight on December 31."

AHTD plans to expand Highway 167, which runs in front of the current fire station.

"[The highway] is going to be a four-lane, and they're taking all of our station or almost all of it," Wilkes said. "We're not going to be able to have anything here."

Wilkes says the fire department has needed a new facility for a long time. They can now finally get the fire station they've always wanted thanks to revenue from the sales tax passed in November.

"We're going to have new living quarters in it and an upstairs that when the time comes to be able to staff the station, we're going to be able to take of that," he said about the plans for the new station. "It's going to be six trucks bays and then meeting rooms, offices. We're looking at a total of about 11,000 to 12,000 square feet.

"We're expecting growth," he added, "and we want something that's going to be able to serve us for another 30 to 40 years."

According to the Independence County treasurer's office, the fire sales tax has already generated $52,709.78 for Northside in just four months time. Wilkes says the fire department plans to pour all of that money into this project, which he expects to cost about $500,000.

"If things go like they are going, we'll be able to pay for the complete building – we'll have it paid off in five to seven years," Wilkes said, "which will be fantastic."

He expects crews to have the building's shell constructed by the end of November so that the department can then begin moving in their equipment. The fire station should be completely finished, he says, by late spring or early summer in 2014.

Northside has already found some ways to save money, too. Wilkes says firefighter Tommy Bryant and his family helped immensely by donating the land used for the new facility.

"It's going to save us $50,000 to $75,000 just on the cost of the land," he said. "It's been great, so we really appreciate Tommy and the Bryant family and what they've done for us."

The firefighters also plan to do a lot of the finishing work inside the building themselves to cut costs.

"I do electrical work," Wilkes said. "We have contractors, carpenters on our station that are members with us and so we're going to do a lot of the work ourselves to help save money so that we can be more efficient."

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