Voters approve special tax to support services in fast-growing Benton fire district

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BENTON, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Voters in Benton approved a special tax Saturday to raise funds needed to meet the fire protection and emergency services demands of one of the fastest-growing areas in Bossier Parish.

Census data released in August shows Bossier was the only parish in Northwest Louisiana to significantly grow in population since the last census ten years ago. Much of that growth has been in Benton, where Fire District 4 encompasses about 174 square miles between Bossier City and Benton, including areas around Cypress Lake.

Shortly after the parish established special taxing districts in 1989 charged with providing fire services, District #4 showed a population of roughly 6,500. Today, the Bossier Parish Police Jury says, that number has grown to approximately 30,000 and includes five schools ranging from elementary to high school.

“We’ve got five times the population we had when the fire district was established, but our budget hasn’t grown proportionately to keep up with the demand,” Benton Fire Chief J.T. Wallace said in an October letter appealing to voters in the district to pass the special two-mill tax that would raise an estimated $389,000 per year for 15 years to pay for improvements to the district’s fire protection facilities, vehicles, equipment, and firefighter salaries.

“We have always operated with a functional budget that keeps us operating day-to-day,” Wallace said. “Our people deserve the best protection possible and that is our goal. We simply need the tools to do the best job.”

Wallace said the district’s current $3.8 million budget does not include funds for the purchase of necessary equipment to keep up with the anticipated demands as the area continues to grow.

“It has become apparent that our ability to continue providing our current level of service is in question if additional revenue for capital improvements is not secured.”

Needs of the department include four new fire engines, two tanker trucks, two rescue vehicles, and eight all-purpose vehicles. Also, Wallace said a remodeling project to add living quarters at the current district fire station is needed, and personal equipment for firefighters such as self-contained breathing apparatus and bunker gear is essential.

The total cost of Wallace’s projected needs is just over $5.4 million.

The proposition passed on Saturday with 62 percent of the 1,028 votes in favor of the special tax.

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