JOPLIN, Mo. —
A previous decision by the Joplin City Council to wean nonprofit groups from city funding dependence was slightly sidestepped Thursday night when a fledgling downtown organization persuaded the panel to increase its financial assistance.
The council voted during a budget review Thursday night to approve up to $50,000 for the Downtown Joplin Alliance if the organization forms a “community improvement district” to generate taxes that would support its operations. The council had agreed last year to reduce funding for it and for the Wildcat Glades Conservation & Audubon Center by 20 percent a year for five years so that nonprofits are not regularly subsidized by taxpayer dollars. The downtown group was scheduled to receive $12,000 in next year’s budget. The alliance was created last year to replace what had previously been Main Street Joplin and then Discover Downtown.
Trisha Patton, the alliance’s part-time director, brought to the council a business plan that showed the alliance is providing more than $118,000 in services to the community with about $48,000 in its budget, including $16,000 the city contributed for this year.
The alliance is putting on the Third Thursday monthly entertainment and art fair event that Patton told the council is now drawing about 5,000 visitors and also is generating some income.
“In the past year, residents have expressed the need for more activities and businesses within the downtown core. As a community, we recognize that a healthy, vibrant downtown is the linchpin for increased development within our city limits,” Patton wrote in the business plan she gave the council to support the $50,000 request. The money would be used to hold more events, expand membership and fund the costs of putting together a Community Improvement District, which could provide a stable source of revenue for the alliance by either imposing a sales tax or a property tax in the downtown.
The organization now promotes an annual sidewalk sale, a quarterly “Downtown Now” series and a Joplin Holiday Experience in addition to Third Thursday events. Members plan to participate in other initiatives such as public art projects.
Patton told the council that there are 300 businesses downtown and that she has increased membership in the alliance from 87 to 121. The organization has helped nine businesses open or remain open, and they are committed to staying downtown, she said.
The alliance also intends to assist the city’s master developer in economic development projects and has helped with activities such as the recent Rand McNally “Friendliest Small City” competition, farmers market, 48-hour film competition and others.
Councilman Benjamin Rosenberg told Patton, “I’m excited you’re considering a CID. That’s the best thing you could do for your organization” to grow and create resources to further promote downtown.
Mayor Pro Tem Bill Scearce told her, “It’s very difficult when the council has to represent everybody, and you come in and ask for something special. The council decided last year to get out of charity funding. Most cities don’t support nonprofits, and you’re asking us to prop you up to the tune of $50,000.”
Patton responded that she did not look at city funding as a charity appropriation but as a contract for services the alliance is providing.
Councilman Gary Shaw said he has worked downtown for 34 years. “I, personally, have been encouraged in the activity this organization has created downtown. Trisha is giving legs to the downtown” like City Manager Mark Rohr has done with downtown streetscaping and historic building preservation support. “I don’t look at it like a charity. I look at it like the Chamber (of Commerce), bringing in business and helping existing businesses. I would like us to take a good, hard look at this and not just blow it off.”
Councilman Mike Woolston asked how the City Council could defend criticism from other sectors of the city. Alliance member Jeff Neal, a restoration contractor and building owner, said that while the alliance is focused on downtown, it provides services for the entire community.
Councilman Jack Golden made a motion to give the alliance the $12,000 already allocated plus $25,000 to encourage it to go forward with the CID. If a CID is formed, the city would give another $13,000 to bring the contribution to a total of $50,000. The motion passed 6-3 with Scearce, Mike Seibert and Woolston voting against it.
In other action, the council:
• Agreed to provide funding for the Joplin Museum Complex at the requested amount of $196,012.
• Approved requests from the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce of $280,000 for the Joplin Regional Prosperity Initiative and $35,000 to help support lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C., on behalf of the Joplin area.
• Agreed to allow employees to have supplemental insurance such as Aflac, which is paid for by the employees at no cost to the city. A request to establish Martin Luther King Day as a city holiday was denied 6-3, with Shaw, Mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean and Trisha Raney voting in favor of it.
• Denied five of eight requests by the firefighters’ union. A new pay plan, which the members requested, and supplemental insurance is already being implemented citywide, and a request for storm shelters at fire stations is in the works.
• Decided not to create a purchasing department at this time. Now, each city department buys its own supplies and equipment.
The City Council completed its budget review in meetings Wednesday and Thursday, and canceled a third session that was planned for tonight.