BATESVILLE, AR (KAIT) – Independence County now mails outsizable checks each month to all the county's fire departments.
The money comes from revenue collected off a half-cent salestax approved last year, and one volunteer department is already putting thefunds to good use.
Shortly before the sales tax vote last November, theNorthside Volunteer Fire Department in Batesville learned it's losing its mainfire station, but not by choice. Now, all the revenue the department receivesis helping it build a brand new home.
Construction crews may have only begun building a new firestation for Northside last week, but the workers are already pressed for time.That's because the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD) gave thefirefighters a deadline to get out of their current facility.
"They're going to require us to be out by the end of theyear, December 31," said Barry Wilkes, who serves as chairman of the firedepartment'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 thecurrent fire station.
"[The highway] is going to be a four-lane, and they'retaking all of our station or almost all of it," Wilkes said. "We're not goingto be able to have anything here."
Wilkes says the fire department has needed a new facilityfor a long time. They can now finally get the fire station they've alwayswanted thanks to revenue from the sales tax passed in November.
"We're going to have new living quarters in it and anupstairs that when the time comes to be able to staff the station, we're goingto be able to take of that," he said about the plans for the new station. "It'sgoing to be six trucks bays and then meeting rooms, offices. We're looking at atotal of about 11,000 to 12,000 square feet.
"We're expecting growth," he added, "and we want somethingthat's going to be able to serve us for another 30 to 40 years."
According to the Independence County treasurer's office, thefire sales tax has already generated $52,709.78 for Northside in just fourmonths time. Wilkes says the fire department plans to pour all of that money intothis project, which he expects to cost about $500,000.
"If things go like they are going, we'll be able to pay forthe complete building – we'll have it paid off in five to seven years," Wilkessaid, "which will be fantastic."
He expects crews to have the building's shell constructed bythe end of November so that the department can then begin moving in theirequipment. The fire station should be completely finished, he says, by latespring or early summer in 2014.
Northside has already found some ways to save money, too. Wilkessays firefighter Tommy Bryant and his family helped immensely by donating theland used for the new facility.
"It's going to save us $50,000 to $75,000 just on the costof the land," he said. "It's been great, so we really appreciate Tommy and theBryant family and what they've done for us."
The firefighters also plan to do a lot of the finishing workinside 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 alot of the work ourselves to help save money so that we can be more efficient."