NEOSHO, Mo. — A review of records made available under the state’s Sunshine Law suggests that Newton County owes the city of Neosho hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Council member Richard Davidson, in a recent Neosho City Council meeting, also had speculated that the amount owed to the city by the county would be in the hundreds of thousands.
The city received $210,525.31 in payments from Newton County through the Neosho Tax Increment Finance District in a three-year stretch between 2012 and 2014. Through the Sunshine Law, which is the state’s collection of open records and open meetings laws, the Globe requested the amounts of the three most recent payments the city received from the district.
In a lawsuit filed earlier this month, the city alleged that the county stopped making those payments in 2015. In the suit, it is asking for an accounting of money it is owed, as well as financial damages, related interest costs and court costs.
“One of the things the city’s lawsuit hopes to determine is the actual amount of money due,” said David Streubel, lead attorney for the city’s suit. “We’d like the county to explain what it has received in taxes over that period of time. Then we can determine the amount of taxes due.”
The county has until Nov. 29 to respond to the suit. Jasper County Circuit Judge Gayle Crane has been assigned by the Missouri Supreme Court to hear the case, according to court records.
Presiding Commissioner Bill Reiboldt said the county intends to pay what the city is owed, but that amount is still to be determined. The county has retained legal counsel to handle details and actions on the suit.
“We have a plan to make payments,” Reiboldt said. “We’ll try to work with them as far as the amounts, but we have a game plan for when we are going to pay.”
Reiboldt said the county plans to make a smaller payment sometime in November; once the county can determine its budget in January, it will pay off the balance at that time. When asked about how much the county would pay in November, Reiboldt declined to specify an amount.
About the TIF district
Established in 1999 as a way to build up underdeveloped areas of the city, the TIF district redirects certain tax revenues to fund development and infrastructure projects in three regions of the city. According to the terms, the city is to receive 50% of all new city and county sales taxes collected from that district, as well as 50% of new property taxes or payments in lieu of taxes, called PILOTs, collected from commercial property in that district.
The county collects the tax revenue, according to the terms of the district, and remits it annually to the city.
According to information disclosed in the Sunshine Law request, those payments jumped in the city’s fiscal year 2015, which ran from Oct. 1, 2014, to Sept. 30, 2015. That fiscal year, the city received $159,151.52 in TIF payments, compared with $14,870.75 in fiscal year 2014 and $36,503.04 in fiscal year 2013.
A possible explanation for the jump is commercial development on the eastern side of Interstate 49 and Highway 86. In 2015, Love’s Travel Stop and White Oak Station opened near the intersection in an area located inside the district.
In addition to uncertainty over the amount of money owed, there is also a question about whether the city should have sent a bill or invoice for those revenues. Reiboldt said the county was accustomed to receiving such an invoice; the amount the county will pay in November is based on a previous invoice from the city, he said.
“I think we used to get invoices on a quarterly basis, but that was before my time,” said Reiboldt, who was elected to his post in 2018. “We have to be responsible for county funds and making sure everything is correct. We’re trying to be good stewards of county money and not trying to get out of anything.”
City officials say they believe the burden of determining the amount due rests with the county. Streubel said the terms of the TIF district have always been clear, and that the city has followed the same procedures and workflow that it has in years when it received payments.
“An invoice from the city is not a prerequisite for paying money that is due,” Streubel said. “That’s a requirement by state law, which requires the county to collect, allocate and pay to the city on a regular basis.”
The TIF district is set to expire in July 2022. The city last week outlined a series of road overlay projects that is expected to be paid with about $604,000 remaining in the TIF fund.