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Benton sales tax increase proposed

City officials in Benton call the state of its public safety services "an emergency". The population growth is out-pacing the growth of the fire department, police department and the 9-1-1 communications system.
City officials in Benton call the state of its public safety services "an emergency". The population growth is out-pacing the growth of the fire department, police department and the 9-1-1 communications system. So they're considering asking voters for a sales tax increase to pump more funds into the agencies.

No major problems yet but the fire chief says something is bound to go wrong. He doesn't have enough man power to cover the entire city and he believes this puts citizens in danger. With more money he could put the truck back on the streets in full service. When you have an emergency you expect the fire department and the police to get there in a hurry.

"They're the ones that help us everyday," Kie Baxley said.

Benton Fire Department personnel are usually the first on a scene, they have EMT’s onboard. They use to have highly trained paramedics but due to budget cuts they had to take them off.

"Paramedics go to school for two years for training an EMT goes to school for 200 hours, they have a higher level of training on the physiology of the body," Fire Chief Ben Blankenship said.

Blankenship says his department has 11 firefighters less than he had in 2002 but the calls are up by 900 a year due to city growth so keeping the city covered is tough job.

"We're unable to cover sections of the city by ourselves Bryant covers part of our city because we don't have the resources to do it," Blankenship said.

Things aren't any better at the police department so the city council will vote Monday whether to ask voters for a half of a percent sales taxes increase. The idea is getting mixed reviews.

"I think anything we can do to support them and improve those departments in the city is the thing to do," Baxley said.

"Not for our city police not for fire station. We have too many vehicles now being used or not being use. Our fire station is already top notched as it is," Delena Knoedl said.

Blankenship says people who feel like this need to spend a day in the shoes of a firefighter. "We're talking about people's lives. Our people can just do so much. They give everything they have but if they don't have the resources we just can't do it," Blankenship said.

Blankenship says if the tax passes his first priority is to get paramedics back on the advanced life support rescue truck then build a fire station on the north side of town so they won't have to rely on help from Bryant.

The city council is supposed to decide Monday night whether to put this sales tax increase on the ballot. It would be a city wide increase of a half percent. All of the money would go to police, fire and 9-1-1 communications.
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