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Sales Tax defeat will not affect public safety services

A half cent sales tax that would have benefited Dickinson public safety was rejected by voters Tuesday. It will not affect police and fire department services, though. (Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press)

A measure for a new half cent sales tax to benefit Dickinson public safety failed in Tuesday's election.

Voters rejected the measure, with 6,603 votes against and only 5,236 in favor.

The funds would have supplanted, not supplemented, money being drawn from the general fund to benefit the city's police and fire departments.

Mayor Scott Decker said he was disappointed by the outcome.

"I think, going into Tuesday, a lot of people had made up their mind," he said. "I think the overall sentiment was that a lot of people were just going to vote no on all measures."

The benefits of a new tax would have been many for the city.

"We would have freed up some dollars for some street projects. We had also worked in some property tax stabilization," Decker said. "If there was any extra money left over, we were going to pay down the debt with it."

The funds would also have allowed the two departments to make immediate purchases, like radios, vehicles and other needed equipment.

"Now we'll probably just have to space out some of the equipment purchases over a longer period of time," Decker said. "Unless something in the future changes."

The measure being rejected will not affect public safety operations, Decker emphasized.

"Public safety is paramount," he said. "When we talk our budget, public safety is No. 1, be it our first responders, road crews, clearing snows, sanding streets. That will not be affected."

Dickinson Fire Chief Bob Sivak said not having the new tax will create some challenges for his department, specifically with high-dollar expenses such as equipment replacement.

"Radio communications is really a big ticket item, and it's going to be costly," he said. "It's something that isn't easily funded by grants anymore or at all by grant money, unless the grants fall more to the private side."

He added, "Our system is on the verge of obsolete, so that's going to be challenging."

The department's ability to acquire vehicles may also be impacted.

"We're getting a new truck now, but in looking down the road five years from now, for the next truck replacement, we'll have to meet those challenges as they come and do the best we can," Sivak said.

The Dickinson Fire Department's services, though, will not be affected.

"We can assure the citizens of Dickinson that our service to them will be at the highest level that we can provide, as it always has been, and will continue to be," Sivak said.

Police Capt. David Wilkie explained that the sales tax, had it passed, would not have had an effect on the department's budget.

"Our budget is our budget," he said. "The sales tax was going to be extra money that came into the city for the police department, so we're just going to continue on as we were."

The department's programs have already been budgeted for 2019, Wilkie said.

The funds, though, would have allowed the DPD to make big purchases more easily.

"We may have to do some planning," Wilkie said. "If we're going to look at replacing a large piece of equipment, we'll have to look at doing that over a couple of years, or if we were to look at replacing rifles or shotguns, or something like that."

A sales tax for public safety could return to voters in the future, Decker said.

"We'll consider it over the next couple of years," he said, "and going into the next election cycle we'll see what the sentiment is."