Editor’s note: This is the third story in a four-part series that previews individual Joplin City Council races ahead of the June 2 election.
An incumbent Joplin City Council member from Zone 3 faces a challenge for reelection by a resident who ran two years ago.
Phil Stinnett has served four terms on the council and has previously served as mayor. He will seek his fifth term in the June 2 election.
His challenger is Steve Urie, who made a bid for a council seat in the 2018 election. Urie is a retired registered nurse and a Christian pastor. Stinnett also is retired.
Both are residents of Zone 3.
All Joplin voters can vote in races for zone seats. The difference between a zone and general seat is that half of the signatures to nominate a candidate must come from registered voters in the zone.
Stinnett said he is interested in serving again because he is one of only two people on the council who have experience with the city's budget before the 2011 tornado. He said he also has developed a good relationship with city managers and department heads over the years to better address issues and concerns of residents.
Urie said that serving on the council is an extension of the work he has done over the years with service organizations such as food pantries, the Association for the Blind, programs for homeless individuals, the city's ADA Accessibility Committee and the Minnie Hackney Community Service Center.
When asked what issues or needs the candidates foresee ahead of the city and council the next four years, Urie cited a need for total transparency in conducting city business and to constantly address budget issues. He also is concerned about rising crime rates, deterioration of neighborhoods that present safety and health issues, and aging city infrastructure.
Stinnett said that the post-tornado budget will require a hard look in a lot of areas. He said the city needs to fill some jobs that have been vacant a long time. He said wages that are appropriate for all city employees will continue to be an issue that deserves attention as does emerging technology that could affect the quality of life for residents.
Tax breaks are often a controversial topic, particularly the use of tax increment financing districts, which take some revenue from all taxing entities, including the city, school district and county.
When asked his view on the use of TIFs, Stinnett said that "Joplin has been fortunate that in the past the vast majority of TIFs that have been activated have proven beneficial to the community. That does not mean you can assume that all TIFs brought forward should be approved."
Chapter 100 bonds, a different form of tax breaks to finance construction of manufacturing plants and other industrial or commercial ventures, do not put any constraints on the city and can be a good method to assist with economic development and job creation, Stinnett said.
Urie believes that "we should use every component available to bring industry and new business to our city. Both of these programs are vital to energizing the economy of Joplin. I would like, within the framework of the programs, to protect the city in all of its efforts."
If a tax break is granted and then the business fails or does not produce the number of jobs required, that business should repay any lost tax revenue to the city, Urie said.
In regard to TIFs, Urie said protection of the city is necessary. He said that the completion of 15th Street east of Range Line was a component of the 1717 Marketplace TIF district, but he questions whether this is the time, as the city plans, to spend the money to finish that street because the developer did not have the funds to finish it as planned.
The candidates also were asked their views on the outcome of tornado redevelopment projects.
Urie believes that much remains unfinished in the tornado zone with many vacancies both in neighborhoods and commercial zones such as South Main Street.
"We must remove this scar from our city to show our complete recovery and now, almost 10 years later, that completion is an absolute necessity. Incentives must be found to encourage renewed efforts to renew south Joplin business vitality," he said.
In residential areas, many property owners have left town, he contends. He said those properties should be declared abandoned so they can be redeveloped.
Stinnett said some residents do not agree that a particular project was necessary.
"That said, I believe that with the fast timeline that was faced to develop these projects and the constraints of locations and types of projects that were proposed, they have been very beneficial to the city," he said.
He believes the housing stock in the tornado zone has been improved. There are many rebuilt streets that would have otherwise taken the city years to do.
"Perhaps the greatest benefit has been in the stormwater area," Stinnett said. "Many needed projects have been completed where past funding was not available. The disaster that struck Joplin in May 2011 was indescribable and the loss of life irreplaceable. But we have become a more resilient and closer community. Joplin has become an example to the whole country on recovering from a natural disaster."