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Joplin Firefighters & Police Scrutinize Indefinite Loan Using Tax Money

Updated:
Joplin, MO -

We have an update to a story we brought you earlier this week.  Joplin police and firefighters say their departments are struggling with slim budgets and not being able to retain workers.  They say they're frustrated after learning about public safety tax dollars (funds that go to their paychecks) going towards paying for City-owned land.

FAA rules govern this land, based on its location to the Joplin airport.

Thousands of dollars from the public safety sales tax are slated to go to the revenue fund of the airport.

"...for the public safety training center," says City of Joplin Finance Director Leslie Haase.

The training center sits on airport (and City) owned land, across the road from the airport's buildings and runways.  City officials say the lease rate for this land is based on a fair market assessment, done by an outside appraiser in 2004.

The City's finance director says the FAA agreed to a lease rate schedule, up to 2029, that gradually increased to the full appraised value.  Between next year and 2029, close to $2 million ($1,772,990) of public safety sales tax money will go towards leasing land for this safety training center.  

Earlier this week, we talked to the president of Joplin's firefighters' union, who pointed out though this safety tax money is paying for safety training center land, the money is going towards the airport's fund.

"I think it could have been looked at better on what kind of ground and placement of it, to better spend citizens' tax dollars," says Jeremie Humphrey with the Joplin Firefighters' Association, IAFF Local 59.

The City's finance director says the fire and police chiefs, back in 2015, and members of City Council at that time, wanted the training center built on this site.

"It was a well thought-out process that was publicly talked about several times," says Haase.  "And the land lease was included every time.  You can't put a burn tower at any location in town.  Also, I remember they talked about, while our fire and police were training, they had to be at a location they could respond if an emergency happened."

The finance director says the FAA will decide when the land lease for the safety training center ends.

"It will just be when enough money has been collected on the land for the FAA to release it.  But there's not a set date," says Haase.

We asked Haase if it would've been more efficient to buy land, rather than lease.

"I still say no," says Haase.  "No matter how long the lease lasts, because it was about the vision of the training center and the location."

Joplin's police and firefighter unions still question if the lease is good use of tax money.

The same lease rate for this land across from the airport is also being charged to a privately-owned business center, also on airport-owned land.

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