NEOSHO — Voters' rejection of a property tax has left the city of Neosho in "survival" mode, its mayor said, and a large number of layoffs and cuts in city services are likely.
Even before last Tuesday's vote in which residents rejected a proposed property tax of up to $1 per $100 of assessed valuation, the city had begun cutting employees to address a $900,000 budget shortfall. The vote came after nearly all the city's administration was either fired or replaced because of budget irregularities that left the city in the hole.
The newest reductions will hit the police and fire departments hardest, with potential layoffs of up to 22 police officers and firefighters. Within a couple of months, the city of 10,500 could have 83 employees, compared with 125 last Sept. 30.
"I have not yet seen the budget, but recovery will not happen with declining sales taxes," Davidson wrote in an e-mail to The Joplin Globe. "Until we find ways to supplement the city's funding with other sources of revenue (as almost all other towns in Southwest Missouri do), survival and stability are the focus."
Interim City Manager Harlan Moore said last week that the police and fire department must each find ways to save $400,000.
Police Chief Dave McCracken said his department may be left with 14 officers if he has to lay off 10 or 11. In that situation, only two to four officers will be patrolling the city at one time, the investigations department may no longer exist and traffic enforcement will be compromised, he said.
"I would have never thought something like this would happen," said McCracken, who has worked in law enforcement for 34 years.
Fire Chief Mike Eads said he would have to lay off 10 of 24 firefighters to cut $400,000 from his $1.5 million budget.
"I'm still crunching some numbers and trying to find ways to reduce that (number)," he said.
A fire substation would have to close or be staffed only part time, Eads said. The department will have to call more often on other cities' firefighters and might have to stop responding to some emergency medical calls, he said.
City employees already agreed to a 3.75 percent pay cut last fiscal year. Besides the police and fire reductions, another $100,000 must be cut from the City Hall budget for the next fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.
The city avoided insolvency this fiscal year by agreeing to borrow $1.3 million. At several presentations in the past month, Davidson warned that the city would face insolvency again next year without either a new revenue stream or sizable budget cuts.
The town's budget problems began last fall, when former City Manager Jan Blase and then-Finance Director Bob Blackwood acknowledged that the city's general fund had borrowed from a number of restricted funds and a state loan reserved for the construction of airplane hangars.
The city now must repay $1.7 million to all those funds. Blase and Blackwood were fired in January, and a new council and new mayor were elected in April. The city manager and finance director also are new.
The Neosho City Council will consider a proposed budget for the next fiscal year during a special meeting Friday.