Senator Rob Mayer has an oft repeated phrase that goes something like “he showed me the corn but slipped me the cob!”, when he is referring to someone who tells you one thing and then does another. That’s why I believe it is appropriate when discussing the recent actions of the Neosho Mayor and majority of the City Council to relate it to showing the citizens of Neosho the nice ear of corn but then slipping them the cob!
Seems that in 1997, the Neosho City Council went to the good taxpaying citizens and told them, “if you will approve a sales tax increase, we will zero out our property tax levy.” This appeared to be a reasonable trade of one tax for another and the good citizens approved the swap.
Fast forward to today, and the good citizens of Neosho are not only paying the increased sales tax they voted to exchange for the property tax, but now the Mayor and majority of the City Council are re-instituting the property tax levy on top of the sales tax!
In full disclosure, it does appear that the city of Neosho has been the victim of some very bad financial management and spending practices. Sales taxes have been sluggish (everyone in the state is suffering that malaise), capitol projects were over spent (someone should be held accountable for that) and funds designated for other purposes were apparently spent to cover up for the previous issues. The City Manager was fired as was the Finance Director and both face a misdemeanor count of official misconduct.
Finding themselves in dire straits, the City resorted to what most governments do, asking the “deep pocketed” citizens for more money. The City asked voters to approve a $1 property tax levy to solve all their problems. Being, responsible, sensible people, the voters of Neosho said NO. Actually, they didn’t just say NO they shouted HELL NO with a 60% margin.
Again, like all “good” governmental entities do, the City of Neosho created an additional crisis (aka Rahm Emanuel) by laying off lots of firefighters and policemen. Obviously the world as we know it is coming to an end.
This led to a 4-1 vote on August 26, 2010 to reinstate the property tax levy. This vote came after a public hearing where the majority who attended opposed the City’s reneging, er, I mean the City’s reinstating the property tax they told the citizens they would not have to pay if they approved the sales tax increase.
Now I”m sure most of you non-big government folks are shaking your head and saying “well, surely the City eliminated the sales tax increase approved by the citizens for no property tax levy! After all, even governments should be expected to keep their word.”
Alright, alright, most of you non-big government folks know that governments usually can’t be depended on to keep their word and that’s exactly what happened in Neosho. They got promised the corn but slipped the cob!
The taxpayers had one defender on the City Council. Councilwoman Heather Bowers was the only member to vote against the proposal. She didn’t appear to vote against it because she disagreed that the City was in dire financial straits. She didn’t appear to vote against it because she is against all taxes. She appears to have voted against it because she remained unconvinced that the citizens of Neosho were receiving the priority over government and that all had been done that could be done before this action of last resort. The Joplin Globe reports:
Bowers said she voted against the resolution to assess the tax because there was no guarantee that the revenue collected would be used exclusively to rehire police and firefighters who were laid off earlier this month by the city in an effort to balance the budget.
“(The resolution) says the money is going to police and fire,” she said. “But the city manager couldn’t promise that’s what it would be used for.”
She said she believes reductions in other areas of the budget, along with a review of the city’s water department, could possibly yield more funds to support police and firefighters.
She also suggested:
…during the meeting that some city administrators and department heads should reduce their salaries to help cover a portion of the shortfall.
“I know there’s four people in this room who are paid very highly who could reduce their salaries by $10,000 each,” she said. “That would bring in enough for two firefighters.”
I don’t make light of the City’s financial woes. The citizens should make sure that the City clearly understands how it got them, THE CITIZENS, in this mess and take actions to insure it never happens again. But I have read a number of accounts of the issue in the Joplin Globe and remain unconvinced that the reinstatement of the property tax levy was the action of last resort. Councilwoman Bowers points out actions that remained off the table and I’m sure many more were available as well.
I do know that reinstatement of the property tax levy was a breach of trust by the city government. Citizens of Neosho should have long memories when it comes to this breach of trust.