Candidate: County, Monett relationship needs growth

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Incumbent says county doing well working with city on MoDOT issues

Since the end of the four-year-old dispute over Monett's tax increment financing program, many have said there is an unspoken rift between the city of Monett and Barry County government, and this year's presiding commissioner candidates are weighing in on the issue.

Candidates running in the Republican primary on Aug. 5 include incumbent Cherry Warren, 75, of rural Exeter, and challengers Eddie Davison, 65, of Shell Knob, and Terry Burgess, 31, of Seligman.

Davison said he believes the TIF lawsuit was the beginning of issues between the two governments, but is not the only thing causing friction. Davison cited the disagreements over 911 center funding, as the county passed a 1/8-cent sales tax, and city of Monett residents also pay a phone tariff for city of Monett emergency services.

"People in Monett's system were taxed on their purchases and also taxed on their phone bills, so many felt they were being double-taxed," he said. "I don't know that there's any

dialogue going on, but Barry County and Monett ended up in a lawsuit where both entities spent a lot of taxpayer money on legal fees.

"I don't think there's a good, working relationship between the county and the city of Monett, and there should be."

Warren said the lawsuit is over, and he has been working in office to help move everyone forward.

"I think we always represent Monett, and what's good for Monett is good for Barry County," he said. "If there's anything we can do for them, we will."

If elected, Burgess said he hopes to have more dialogue between the county and the city of Monett.

"A lot of it is over the TIF and now that that's settled, hopefully we can move on and work better with each other," he said. "The first step is opening a line of communication and building trust. We have to work together instead of working against each other."

Dennis Pyle, Monett's city administrator, said the city's relationship with the county is looking up, but it is not where he a would like it to be.

"I would say our relationship is improving," he said. "I think there was a strain on our working relationship during the TIF litigation, but since that has ended, our relationship is improving.

"We still want to keep lines of communication open, and if there's an opportunity for us to work together for the benefit of Monett and Barry County, we'd like to do that."

Pyle said city officials and residents of Monett have the perception the city is not highly impacted by county decisions, and that may be because no Monett resident serves on the commission.

"We feel as though we don't have much representation on the county commission because we don't have a commissioner from Monett," Pyle said. "We have a good working relationship with Northern Commissioner Gary Schad, but we feel as though, sometimes, decisions are made without any input from Monett."

Warren said the county is working with Monett, most recently when it comes to planning for use of the state transportation tax, if voters pass the measure.

"We did some work making plans for the roads and airport and had meetings to determine, if the 3/4-cent tax passes, what it would be used for," he said. "It's important for the county to have some input on it if it does pass, and we need to get our fair share."

Pyle said the work with the county on transportation projects, such as widening highways 37 and 60 and supporting Monett airport projects, is a step in the right direction.

"We also plan on retiring one of the TIF districts five years ahead of schedule, and that should benefit Barry County, Barry County 911 and the city of Monett," Pyle said.

The TIF lawsuit began in 2009 and ended in 2013, when the Missouri Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal filed by Barry County 911. Barry County 911 was the last of three parties sued by the city of Monett for failing to send the city the part of its sales tax revenue garnered inside Monett's two TIF districts.

Despite discussions about the situation with the Barry County and Lawrence County commissioners, both commissions subsequently stopped paying the TIF a portion of Monett sales, as had been done since 1996. The city issued a demand letter for payment in June 2009. When there was still no response, the city filed suit against all three taxing entities on Oct. 26, 2009.

Attorneys for both sides faced off in November 2010 and March 2011 before Judge Neal Quitno, of Nevada. Mary Jo Shaney, lead attorney for Monett, complained that the county would never detail the grounds for asserting Monett's TIFs had been formed inappropriately and were null from the outset. The counties argued all the money paid into the TIF over 13 years should be returned.

Quitno issued a rule in favor of Monett on April 20, 2011, which he finalized on July 24, 2011. Quitno concurred with Shaney's arguments that the counties had waited too long to object to the debt. State law did not allow withdrawal from a cooperative agreement in protest of decisions made years earlier.

While Pyle said the relationship between city and county officials could improve, he is not taking sides.

"We are not getting involved in the campaigns," he said. "We will work with, or attempt to work with, whoever serves as presiding commissioner."

The presiding commissioner is the head of the Barry County Commission, which includes the presiding commissioner, a northern commissioner and a southern commissioner. The presiding commissioner, who earns a salary of $31,700, is tasked with managing county finances, property and employees; overseeing county departments; promoting economic development and job creation; overseeing county roads and issuing burn bans, among other duties.

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