City promises new police, fire staff if use tax passes

Tuesday, April 4, 2023


That’s what this election holds that the four that came before it didn’t.

If the city is allowed to collect a use tax that could generate an expected $800,000 from citizens’ internet purchases, it will hire three firefighters and two dispatchers with the funds, plus much more, city manager Matt Winters shared at a recent series of city meetings.

Residents will vote April 4 on the matter for the fifth time, and city officials hope they’ve found a formula for success.

“As a failure to what we’ve done in the past is, we didn’t do this before,” Winters shared. “We didn’t provide education. We didn’t provide information, and we never said what we were going to do with it. I think people want to know where their money’s going to go.”

Additional police officers will also be hired. Poplar Bluff will bring back its city-wide leaf pickup program, double the funds used for mosquito abatement, make repairs to the animal shelter and improve city parks, Winters told visitors to meetings last week at Temple Baptist Church and Wheatley School.

Unfortunately, the turnout for the community meetings was low, officials have said. The number of city staff members on hand to answer questions outpaced residents seeking answers by about three to one at the Ward 4 meeting.

Still, they are hopeful their efforts to be specific about the way they would spend use tax dollars will help turn the tide.

“These are the things the council has committed to doing as we move forward with the tax,” Winters said. “These are based on not just random things... but things that we hear complaints about at city hall, the things the city council members hear complaints about, the concerns of our department heads that affect their operations and the safety and security of our community.”

Cost to residents

Breaking it down, Winters said, this would cost a resident $2.25 on any $100 purchase made online to certain out-of-state vendors.

The tax would go into effect Oct. 1, if passed. The promises made by city officials would be included in the 2024 city budget.

A use tax would not be paid on purchases made to in-state vendors because it’s already collected as a local sales tax.

The use tax mirrors the 2.25% that residents pay as local sales at brick-and-mortar businesses closer to home.

The gap in Missouri laws regarding sales tax collection applies only to certain out-of-state internet purchases. It is a matter state legislators were reluctant to address for local communities like cities and counties — although the state collects it for itself. So each municipality and smaller taxing district must convince its voters of the need themselves.

Cities like Dexter and Sikeston have been successful. Dexter collects about $800,000 a year from its use tax, Winters said, while Sikeston gets around $1 million.

That’s where the estimates come from regarding what Poplar Bluff could see.


But doesn’t the city already collect enough in tax dollars from its citizens, residents like Travis Williams asked at Temple Baptist. After all, collections are higher than they’ve ever been.

So are expenses, Winters countered.

Inflation and the needs of a growing city are a strain on general fund budgets, he shared.

For instance, the cost of the city’s workman’s compensation insurance is going up almost $100,000 compared to last year, he explained.

“The things that (the sales tax) is already spent on have gone up,” Winters said. “We’ve seen a huge increase in our gasoline and diesel costs. The cost for asphalt and concrete has gone up significantly. Our cost for uniforms has gone up. Health insurance has gone up. The rate of the cost of the things that we’re buying... has gone up more than our sales tax.”

Williams also wanted reassurance that these promises would be kept, and for how long.

Winters was honest, saying he couldn’t predict the distant future.

But he could speak for the 2024 budget, and his time as city manager.

“I can tell you that as long as I’m here and the council members that are supporting this are here, yes,” he said, adding, “This is my home. This is my daughter’s home. This is my granddaughter’s home. I want my son to move back to Poplar Bluff. (I want) to continue to make things better, continue to have a place our kids want to come back to...

“I want to show you when these things get done.”

Use tax spending

Winters estimated that adding three new firefighters could cost about $210,000 a year, with salary and benefits. This will increase the number of firefighters on duty in the city by one for each of the three shifts.

Two new dispatchers would cost an estimated $110,000. Currently, there is one person on duty during the 2 a.m. to 10 a.m. shift. Adding staff will allow the city to have two-person coverage 24 hours a day, Winters said. Dispatchers answered more than 30,000 calls in 2022.

Additional police officers will be added to help reduce overtime costs and burnout, Winters said.

Increasing the mosquito abatement program from a half-time position that takes two days to cover the entire town to full-time would be between $16,000-$20,000. This would cover the additional cost of chemicals and manpower, allowing for the entire town to be treated each night the mosquito abatement truck is active.

Improvements are also promised at the city animal shelter, the increase of the museum director’s position from part-time to full-time and new soccer fields and playgrounds.

Public participation

Winters thanked the citizens who attended for their questions.

“I can’t ask you to vote anyway or another... all I can do is provide information,” he said. “Whether you vote yes or no, I’m glad that you came to ask questions.”

There can be a lack of interest in local government, but these are tax dollars citizens will see reinvested into their community, he promised.

“Whether it be the city government or your school district, this has a bigger impact on your day-to-day lives than what goes on in Washington, D.C.,” Winters said. “What we’re talking about here... it’s all getting spent right here.

“It’s all getting spent on your neighbors and your friends and your family members. It’s getting spent on your streets, that you drive on every day, things that you encounter every day... This money gets reinvested back here in your community.”

Winters encouraged anyone with questions to contact him at 573-785-7474 or

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