May 18—Questions were raised Monday night about several aspects of four tax proposals, but the Joplin City Council moved forward to put them before voters.
A proposal to renew the city's existing quarter-cent sales tax to fund parks and stormwater projects was approved.
Leslie Haase, the city's finance director, said the proposal is expected to generate about $41 million over 10 years for parks enhancements and drainage projects to curtail flooding. A committee of residents recommended splitting the money 55% for parks and 45% for stormwater because flood projects received larger shares the last two 10-year cycles of the tax.
The question will be placed on the Aug. 3 ballot and has to be sent to the county clerk by May 25, Haase said. A motion to approve the ballot question was made by council member Diane Reid Adams and seconded by Doug Lawson. The vote was 8-0, with council member Anthony Monteleone absent.
The council also approved a resolution in support of adopting action plans developed by city staff to address the council's six goals for community improvements in housing, neighborhoods, homelessness, public safety, economic opportunities and revenue.
Resident Arnold Nicholas questioned why the city would, in its action plan related to replacing deteriorated housing, offer incentives for housing over $150,000. He said rental prices have gotten high and that he was told that about a third of the housing vouchers available to low-income residents are going unused because rentals in that price range are not available.
He said the city should take the incentives aimed at the higher-priced housing and make it available to low-income residents and landlords to repair their properties. He also recommended that the city lift a restriction that property owners could only get one building permit a year for work they do themselves and give away city-owned vacant lots to builders for new houses.
Councilman Phil Stinnett asked for the opportunity to have council discussions on the action plans as they go forward so that council members could discuss ideas and suggestions about them such as those brought forward by Nicholas.
City Manager Nick Edwards said most of the action plans will have some policy decision to be made as they are being prepared to go into action and that the council will have a chance to discuss them going forward.
Councilman Gary Shaw made a motion to approve the resolution, which was seconded by Councilman Chuck Copple and passed 8-0.
A use tax, which is collected on purchases made on the internet when local sales taxes cannot be assessed, is proposed to pay for the city expense that would be incurred in carrying out the action plans.
Haase said the tax would cost 3 1/8 cents, the same amount as the city's sales taxes.
"Collections of sales taxes have been eroded by online purchases because the city does not have the use tax," Haase said. She estimated the use tax would bring in $3 million to $4 million a year.
The measure will be placed on the Nov. 2 ballot.
Stinnett asked why the use tax question was placed on the agenda so far ahead of the election as an emergency ordinance, meaning that it would be approved immediately instead of being read for final action at a second meeting.
Haase said that by approving all the tax questions at the same time, city staff and residents who speak to groups about the proposals could discuss all the tax proposals at the same time. It is so "the citizens get the big picture of what we are working on," she added.
Stinnett told Mayor Ryan Stanley that he has a concern about making it an emergency ordinance based on the comments of some residents.
The mayor said, "We've talked about these so much in the last two months; it's been in the paper; we had a work session last week; this is not something that's new. I can understand concern about the emergency and first and second readings if it was new, but we have been chewing on this a couple of months."
Copple asked if the reason given for the emergency ordinance adheres to City Charter requirements.
City Attorney Peter Edwards said tax questions qualify as emergency ordinances, according to the charter.
Shaw made a motion to approve the use tax proposal. It was seconded by Councilman Keenan Cortez and approved 8-0.
A proposal to ask voters to approve a renovation project at Memorial Hall for up to $30 million brought a resident, Frank Thompson, to speak.
He said this question too was listed as an emergency ordinance even though it would not go to voters until April 2022 and that he wanted to know why. He also questioned why the city gave up the Memorial Hall parking lot and then would ask for more money from the proposed bond issue to provide hall parking.
Stinnett also questioned the use of the emergency ordinance on the proposal to issue general obligation bonds to fund the proposed Memorial Hall project. It would be paid for over 20 years by the assessment of property and personal property taxes.
Haase said city staff has been working on parking plans for the hall and may need to do some additional work on that when the renovation is finished.
Stinnett asked if the taxes would be assessed on manufacturing equipment.
Haase said it would apply to commercial business for real estate, personal property and equipment, including vehicles. It also applies to agricultural properties, she said.
Reid Adams said some people ask why the city doesn't tear down Memorial Hall. She asked how much that would cost. Haase said it would be about $1 million.
Stinnett said he would not vote in favor of the proposal because of the emergency ordinance designation. Both he and Lawson voted against a motion made by Cortez and seconded by Copple to approve the ballot measure. It passed by a vote of 6-2.
The fourth tax proposal presented is another ballot measure for April 2022 to issue bonds of $10 million to finance a renovation of the former library building in the 300 block of Main Street for an education and job training project called Project Launchpad. It too would be paid for with property taxes.
The launchpad would be developed by the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, Missouri Southern State University, the Joplin School District and the city.
Resident Ryan Jackson said he attended a meeting last week about the proposal. While he thinks there are some good concepts proposed, he thinks there are too many unanswered questions, including details about what entities would be on the lease.
"What's going to be the selection criteria for the tenants (of the building)? We don't know, but we are going to vote to put this on the ballot tonight," Jackson said.
Thompson also spoke about the proposal, contending there are other buildings, such as the Advanced Training and Technology Center operated by the chamber and Crowder College that is not fully occupied, and the Newman Innovation Center, which could be empty soon.
Stinnett said he has heard the same comments and questions from other residents. He also has been told by business owners that the launchpad is not going to train the type of workers they need and that they need workers now.
He said he is in favor of the project going to voters but that he was going to vote "no" again because he saw no reason for it to be an emergency ordinance.
Cortez made a motion to approve the ballot measure, Copple seconded, and it was approved 7-1 with Stinnett's lone dissent.