The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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April 21, 2012

Silver Creek residents debate possibility of merger with Joplin

When motor courts were king of the road in the 1930s, travelers on old Highway 71 could stop for the night in a crop of trees a bit more than a mile south of Joplin at the Tivoli Courts.

There they’d find 11 little cabins for rent, with a cafe and gas station to fill their bellies and their tanks before they hit the road again.

In 1947, Norma Burtrum and her husband, the late Joe Burtrum, came to Joplin. A few years later, they left the city limits and bought a homeplace that included the Tivoli Courts.

Before they bought it, a carnival operator had owned it and he used it for the show’s winter quarters. Those who looked close during that time might have seen the show’s elephants showering themselves with their trunks in a two-acre artesian-fed lake on the property.

“During the war (World War II), the soldiers used to come to the courts and stay,” Norma Burtrum said. ”The price to stay was $2, and the business was still good when we bought it.”

Her husband earned a living selling cars there — “Lo Dollar Joe,” he was called. Today, her son, “Little Joe,” lives down the road, and she, at age 87, still operates the Silver Creek Wedding Parlor in what was incorporated in 1955 as the village of Silver Creek.

But Norma Burtrum is disturbed these days by what she and like-minded village residents see as a threat to what she terms independence.

PUBLIC OPINION

 The village Board of Trustees is proposing the merger of Silver Creek into the city of Joplin. It’s a question that has opinions on two sides.

At a town hall meeting last week, about half of the 20 or so residents who attended seemed to favor consolidation. The other half did not.

Norma Burtrum was one of the outspoken critics of the proposal and hopes voters will reject the idea.

“I own the largest piece property out here — 32 acres — in one spot,” she said, in addition to the wedding chapel. “Between Joe and I together we own about 50 acres. We do not want to be in the city limits. We lived in the city for 18 years. That’s why I came out here. People are nice and friendly.”

Village board Chairman Tom Worley said homeowners would save money — by his estimates more than $500 annually per household — by merging with Joplin. He told residents that it also would lift the burden of village business from only a few people who have been willing to assume it. He said two of the three trustees and a volunteer secretary handle the bulk of the work, and it’s getting to be too much for them.

Burtrum disputes the contention that no one will volunteer to be a trustee.

At the town meeting Tuesday, “there was five or six people who said they would be glad to serve on the board,” she said. “I went down there because I don’t want to go back into the city of Joplin. So I went down there to object to that.”

Village representatives have met two times with Joplin officials. The Joplin City Council agreed last week to hear a request at a meeting next month to ask the commissions in Jasper and Newton counties to place a consolidation question on the Aug. 7 ballots.

Worley said last week the reason for seeking consolidation primarily is money. “The city (Joplin) has no personal property tax, and that’s a savings.”

Silver Creek pays property tax for fire service to Redings Mill. That amounts to $148.70 on a $100,000 house, Worley said. Joplin’s property tax for a house of that value is $28.90, which decreases the property tax bill by about $120.

Village residents would pay lower sewer service charges. Trash disposal is now $11 a month for one cart from Allied Waste. Joplin residents receive two polycarts plus bulky item removal for less than $2 more a month.

Worley estimates the total savings for the average Silver Creek household at about $556 a year.

According to an analysis by Joplin’s finance director, Leslie Jones, the village of Silver Creek could offer Joplin about $415,000 a year in revenue and it would cost the city most of that, about $400,000, to provide city services to the village and pay the village’s financial obligations.

The chief expense is a $2.3 million debt for a sewer collection line system the village installed in 2009. Joplin treats the sewage. Village residents pay an out-of-city surcharge for the service.

Together, the out-of-city sewer charge and the monthly payment village residents make of about $23 to cover the debt costs each household about $30.

Fire protection and good infrastructure are two reasons business co-owner Sheri Wheelen of Wheelen RV Center, 4301 S. Range Line Road, favors the consolidation.

“Business-wise, it will be a matter of changing sales tax to the Joplin sales tax,” she said. The village has good law enforcement from the Newton County Sheriff’s Department, she said, and the Missouri State Highway Patrol for accidents.

“It can only be a plus with the (Joplin) fire protection,” she said. “The city fire protection will make a difference on our insurance.”

Fire Chief Andy Nimmo of Redings Mill says some of the figures that are being used in the debate are not accurate.

He said the fire district paid off a 2001 bond issue last year that will lower taxes in the district to about $130 on a $100,000 house.

Village trustees have told residents that the village has an insurance rating of 5 on which homeowner’s insurance and fire insurance are based. Joplin’s rating is 3, which would lower insurance rates. Nimmo, though, says there’s not that much difference. He said the village rating is 4, though the fire department’s website shows it at 5.

The fire district would lose about $51,000 from its $1.1 million in revenue if the village leaves the fold.

Brian Head, city attorney for Joplin, told the City Council there is a state law that would appear to require Joplin to pay Redings Mill in graduated sums over five years to make up the loss. Head said the law applies to annexations, though, not consolidations.

Nimmo said that calling the Silver Creek proposal a consolidation instead of an annexation is splitting hairs.

Because Joplin has been a good neighbor to the outlying area. “it would be unfortunate if they chose to look at it from that standpoint,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s an annexation process.

“If we lost the money all at once, we’d have to look at our budget and find ways to cut. Ultimately, everyone is going to suffer for that.

“With the five-year payoff enacted by the state Legislature, it was designed to spread that loss over a period of time where the natural growth of district will come in and fill it in,” Nimmo said.

ASSETS AND REVENUE

 Silver Creek has about 10 businesses with estimated sales of $2 million a year, according to Jones, Joplin’s finance director. That would generate approximately $52,500 a year from Joplin’s various sales taxes. Of that, $20,000 would be from the 1-cent general tax that goes to the city’s general fund; $10,000 each would come from the half-cent public safety and transportation sales taxes; $7,500 from the three-eighths cent capital improvement sales tax; and $5,000 from the quarter-cent parks and stormwater sales tax.

Franchise taxes on utility companies would bring in $65,000.

Revenue from business licenses is $500 a year.

The village has about $259,000 cash that would be transferred to Joplin.

 The village owns a town hall, which is a double-wide mobile home with an asphalt parking lot and a 10-by-12-foot shed. It is situated on one of three lots the village owns, amounting to about three-quarters of an acre. The other two lots are wooded. The village allows residents to use the hall for events such as birthday and graduation parties with a $40 damage deposit, but does not charge a rental fee.

LAW ENFORCEMENT

 Law enforcement services now are provided to Silver Creek by the Newton County Sheriff’s Department. The last available totals, which are for 2010, show that 177 calls were received from residents that year, and most were medical calls for ambulances or emergency medical technicians.

Joplin’s assistant police chief, Jason Burns, said that number of calls would not pose a difficulty for Joplin personnel to handle.

He said that 177 calls for service are not high compared with the number handled in the Police Department’s existing beat areas. If the village were included in the nearest beat area, it would add only about 14 to 15 calls a month to this month’s 1,033. The department’s six beats have call numbers per month ranging from 391 to 1,740, he said.

“Silver Creek calls are pretty minimum compared to what we deal with” in the current beat areas, Burns said.

The proposal, though, would have to carry a majority vote from both villagers and Joplin residents for passage.

Wheelen believes it will pass because residents will see the advantages for the future. “It will be a plus for everybody in the long run to be in the city and to be out of the village. There’s nothing to offer (as a village) and all the infrastructure is in place. This would be a good new little bit of tax base” for the city, she said.

Burtrum disagrees. “This is much nicer,” she said. “We’ve been getting along all these years. We want to leave it just like it is.”

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