By Derek Spellman
NEOSHO, Mo. — A city budget calling for layoffs and a pay cut for all employees secured final approval Tuesday night in Neosho, although not without objections.
The budget for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, includes nine layoffs and a 3.75 percent pay cut for all employees. The proposed budget calls for a total of 119 full-time employees for the next fiscal year.
The budget was approved on second and third readings by a 4-1 margin, with Councilwoman Heather Bowers the lone dissenter.
Bowers moved to fire City Manager Jan Blase during last week’s special council meeting on the city budget, criticizing Blase’s management and what she has considered a lack of oversight. That motion died for a lack of a second from the three other council members present.
Bowers on Tuesday night demanded more specifics about the city finances and spending, calling for more “transparency” in city government in general. She said the city has been slow to produce that information.
Her comments drew a sharp rejoinder from Councilman Warren Langland, who accused Bowers of repeated “out of order denunciations” at council meetings that were often unsubstantiated and made a “mockery” of the proceedings. He also accused Bowers, whom he described as “the councilman to my left,” of using a “public forum” to promote a personal agenda.
“I don’t have an agenda,” Bowers told the Globe during a recess in Tuesday’s council meeting, except to promote transparency and the greater availability of public information.
But there were several comments about Tuesday night’s budget proposal, which was passed virtually unchanged from the proposal Blase advanced earlier this month.
Councilman Richard Davidson asked that next year the council receive the proposed budget in July as opposed to late August, so it would have more time to dissect and make recommendations to the proposal. Currently, the council has “very little input” on the proposal other than to vote on it, he said.
“I would just treat this budget with respect,” Davidson said.
Davidson has also called for the city to look at whether some of the city’s properties, notably a 300-acre tract north of the city’s industrial park, could be sold to raise revenue. The 300 acres, for example, were purchased in the late 1990s to keep incompatible residential development from encroaching into the industrial areas.
Davidson said the city is still using economic development sales tax revenue that could be used to spur development to pay off the debt for land that is not being used.
“That’s not economic development,” he told the Globe during the recess. “That’s economic discouragement.”
The lone amendment to the budget proposal came from Langland, whose measure asked that the parks department receive proceeds from the sale of any land later deemed surplus.
Langland’s comments were aimed at concerns raised by Rhonda Warren, a member of the city’s parks and recreation board, who said excess revenues generated by renting of park facilities, for example, were being sent to the general fund.
Blase told Warren that the general fund has heavily subsidized parks programs in recent years.
By the numbers
The budget proposal calls for total expenditures of more than $28.6 million.
By Derek Spellman
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