BAXTER SPRINGS - The Baxter Springs City Council held an open forum during their regular meeting on Oct. 24, to give the public a chance to ask questions or voice concerns regarding the one percent sales tax increase question that will be on Tuesday's ballot. The proposed increase, if approved by the voters on election day, will take effect in March 2018.

After deliberating several different options over the course of months, the Council approved a resolution to put the issue on the ballot for the Nov. 7 election back in June of this year.

"Now it's up to the voters to decide," City Attorney Robert Myers said.

The decision wasn't reached lightly, and has been thoroughly debated and looked into. The city is facing a dire financial situation, which they outlined in a brochure that was included in resident's water bill earlier this year.

The brochure states that the city is requesting the increase to help offset the city's loss in tax revenue over the last few years. The funds from the increase will be used for improvements to the city's infrastructure and facilities, which are long over due.

“We're not earmarking this for any particular one thing,” Mayor Randy Trease said at the June 13 meeting. “It’s for any infrastructure we may need. Right now our Police Department is not ADA compliant.”

Mayor Trease echoed that sentiment at this past Tuesday's meeting, saying only that emergency services (City Police and Fire Departments) would have the top priority. The City of Baxter Springs gave concerned residents a chance on June 27 to see up close the numerous problems at the building currently housing both the Police and Fire Departments. The building is in dire need of multiple renovations and repairs, a detailed photo gallery of which can be found at Renovating the building now, however, seems to be off the table in the event the voters approve the increase. At Tuesday's meeting Mayor Trease suggested the City would more likely be looking at an entirely new facility, with separate buildings.

"Four-letter word: Move," he said.

The Council reminded those present that nothing had been set in stone as far as where the money would go, opting to wait and see the results of the election before getting any concrete plans together.

Crumbling infrastructure

The brochure issued by the City earlier this year detailed some of the work needed at the various facilities and with the systems. The current building that houses the Fire Department was built in the 1920s, and was built to house much smaller vehicles than what the department uses today. Structurally the building has many issues, including: Water leaks eating away at the windows and walls, basement flooding and sewage backup, as well as electrical issues. The Municipal Court and Police Department are both housed in the same building as the Fire Department. The building is not ADA compliant.

The city's basic water and sewer infrastructure is also a major point of concern, described by the city as "a constant source of problems". Part of the current system being used, including some water mains, are over 100 years old and in dire need of replacement. Several streets throughout the city need to rebuilt from the bottom up. Funds for regular street repair and maintenance is expected to come from the increase as well. This will include fixing the many potholes and wash outs. The city plans to use some of the funds from the increase, if it passes a vote of the citizens, to go towards resurfacing streets throughout the town. Repairs to the city pool, now over 60 years old and past its life expectancy, are also on the list.