Neosho could lose up to $200,000 annually because of new laws approved by the Missouri legislature.
So said Steven Hays, city attorney, reporting to the Neosho City Council this week about the signings by Gov. Jay Nixon on March 20, of Senate Bills 649 and 650.
Hays said S.B. 650 was a duplication of a bill approved last year that took away the authority of cities to zone and control the placement or use of telecommunications towers within their cities.
“So in other words, if a tower company decides to build a tower and they buy the land, they’re going to pretty much put it anywhere they want and the city can’t control that,” he said.
Hays said an appeals court tossed that law last year because of some flaws; but those flaws were fixed and the improved bill was approved again this year; and he added that most attorneys believe the new version would trump any court contest of its content: “And it will be the law of the land.”
Hays said what is even more disturbing is that S.B. 649 also sailed through the legislature, as cities have historically had the authority to charge and contract for franchise fees for utilities within their cities.
He said, “These were general access franchise agreements. What 649 ultimately did, is it took this authority away from the cities, and gave general access authority, without having a contract for it, to utilities who didn’t have an expounded licensing franchise agreement with the city.”
Hays said the city of Neosho has two licensing franchises within its ordinances; one with telephone companies, and also with Empire District Electric; but does not have one with the current provider of natural gas, as that has changed hands several times and is now owned by Laclede Gas for the past year.
“So everyone who is on natural gas,” said Hays, “we used to have an agreement with these companies to where they paid five percent of their gross revenues to the city. Thanks to the state legislature, and other wisdom, this was taken.”
Hays said attorneys for the state’s cities are searching for some loopholes, “But if we can’t get to that point, the city will lose those franchising fees.” He estimated that could mean from $160,000 to $200,000; “And it could exceed $200,000, depending on the weather and how much is used.”
One possible way around the new law said Hays, is if it can be documented that an agreement is in place that pre-dates the Hancock Amendment, approved by voters in 1980.
“Then that can be potentially codified into a licensing agreement law which would require the gas company to continue. As cell phones and mobile radios are a new invention that came after 1980,” he said, “that’s going to be gone. The cable company using satellites, the tower; that we’re going to lose.”
If the city cannot provide the proper documentation of an agreement that pre-exists Hancock, Hays said the city will have to make up significant general revenue funds. He said the new laws will take effect in late August, when most bills enacted by the General Assembly that year become the law of the land.