Joplin's fire and police unions want to know if money going towards the City of Joplin's airport is being given inefficiently, or even illegally. Firefighters and police workers say there's some frustrating irony here; they say their departments are struggling with small budgets, yet money from those budgets is being taken by the City and going towards another department.
"It's very awkward for us to be put in a situation that we find these things and then have to bring it out," says Jeremie Humphrey with the Joplin Firefighter's Association, IAFF Local 59.
Humphrey says earlier this year he met with Joplin City Manager Sam Anselm.
"He challenged us with trying to find money in the budget for raises (for firefighters)," says Humphrey.
After looking at numbers, Humphrey has a challenge of his own to city officials.
"Look into this," says Humphrey. "Make sure money is being spent correctly."
The City-owned, newly built police and fire training center, across Highway 171 where the Joplin Airport stands, is on land owned by the airport. Humphrey says after looking at documents from the City, obtained through the Sunshine Law, he learned the FAA and MODOT only allow the airport to use or lease the land, since the property sits below flight paths.
The contract for this new training center was drawn-up during the tenures of a city manager, police and fire chiefs who no longer work with the City.
"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 Humphrey.
Humphrey says Joplin public safety sales tax money is being taken out of the police and fire departments' budgets on a yearly basis for lease payments to the airport.
Joplin's fire and police unions want answers from City Hall.
"Our members did find it intriguing," says Sgt. William Davis with the Fraternal Order of Police #27, which represents the Joplin Police Department.
The unions want to know the dollar amounts of these lease payments and why the safety training center wasn't built elsewhere.
"Renting property, or renting facilities, you lose some of the value of your dollars. So it's not as efficient as if we would've owned the property," says Humphrey.
The unions also want to know if tax dollars earmarked for public safety use can go towards the airport department.
"We're firefighters, and our job is to protect the public. It shouldn't be to spend time looking to make sure we protect the citizens' dollars," says Humphrey.
Joplin City Manager Sam Anselm declined an on-camera interview with us today. But he did send us an e-mail confirming that these lease payments show in the airport fund as revenue.
We talked to two Joplin City Council members who voted for this new safety training center, but told us they were unaware of these lease details.
KOAM/KFJX will be filing a Sunshine request to City Hall and will update this story as more information becomes available.
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