It was hard for the more than 100 people in attendance to fight back the tears Friday evening as Neosho Fire Chief Greg Hickman said good-bye to the firehouse he has called home for the past 37 years during his retirement ceremony in downtown Neosho.


It was hard for the more than 100 people in attendance to fight back the tears Friday evening as Neosho Fire Chief Greg Hickman said good-bye to the firehouse he has called home for the past 37 years during his retirement ceremony in downtown Neosho.

After receiving honors, accolades and tokens of appreciation from community officials and supporters, Hickman took the microphone as fire chief of the city of Neosho one last time and thanked everyone — from his brothers in the firehouse, to the citizens of Neosho — for their support over the near four decades he served his hometown.

With a heavy heart and tears in his eyes, he spoke about the city and the job he loved — and how he hoped that the citizens would “continue to support your community, our community.”

With the clock ticking past 5 p.m. Friday night, Hickman’s employment with the city of Neosho had been complete. And with an engaged audience tuned in to his speech, he used his time at the microphone to talk about the future of his hometown, which he said had not seen “hard times like this before.” Hickman was referring to the city’s current troubled financial state, which led to him taking early retirement and the city laying off 10 workers in July, and the proposed $1 per $100 assessed value property tax issue on the Aug. 3 ballot.

He used his time to urge citizens to push their personal agendas aside and said, “you should have one personal agenda, and that is to make the city of Neosho stand up.”

“I have seen Neosho go through some bad things, but not quite as bad as this,” Hickman said. “I always said Neosho needed a niche to bring back people back to our community. This is the time, and this is the niche, to basically stand up, take pride in your community and do what is right. I am not going to tell you what to do, but do what is right in your own heart to make Neosho grow… stand up, and walk proud.”

Greg Hickman, thank you for standing up and urging the citizens of our community to not vote for their own personal agendas, to not vote out of spite and anger.

We are all angry that we are faced with this crossroads in our community right now. No one should be more angry than Chief Hickman, who took early retirement to save the jobs of younger firemen under his watch.

If that is not an act of a true leader and dedicated public servant, I don’t know what is. I have always had the upmost respect for Chief during my five-plus years working and living in Neosho, but that respect ballooned after spending more than an hour with Greg on the day his retirement was announced. I sat in a chair in his office as he couldn’t fight back the tears of frustration anymore.

No one wants to pay higher taxes, but I also don’t want to be faced with the alternative of decreased city services in both police and fire.

A decrease in essential city services — police, fire and major quality of life services — will have a trickle down effect.

In the future, if this tax doesn’t pass and Neosho isn’t allowed to dig out of its current financial hole, when a family is relocating to Southwest Missouri and comparing communities, will they decide to live in Webb City, Carthage, or Joplin because Neosho’s quality of life and services pale in comparison?

If a business or industry is looking to expand or build a new facility or open a store in Neosho, will they compare fire and police protection services and other city amenities to surrounding communities, and decide to locate elsewhere because “Neosho doesn’t offer what they need.”

Now, on the flipside, you might point out that a family or business owner might decide not to move to Neosho because of having to pay a property tax.

The fact is, paying a property tax is the norm in most communities — it just hasn’t been the norm in Neosho since 1997. Neosho is the only community that does not currently impose a property tax in Newton County. Yes, if passed, the $1 tax would be the highest in the area, but Neosho Mayor Richard Davidson has stressed during his public meetings that the council will be charged with setting the levy by Sept. 1 prior to the beginning of each fiscal year, which begins in Neosho on Oct. 1. He informed voters that the council could decrease the levy amount each year if sales tax revenues increase, and the city is able to get out of its current financial hardship. During one public meeting, a citizen asked how they could trust the council to set the levy at the appropriate amount.

Davidson said that is why it is important for citizens to be involved in the election process of their councilmembers, and vote for the candidates they believe will do the right thing for Neosho and its citizens in the future. He also said while he would serve on the council, he would make sure the levy was set at the appropriate amount, but that of course, he could not speak for the other members of the council. For senior citizens on a fixed income, the state of Missouri has a property tax credit program available, which can provide a maximum of $750 for renters and $1,200 for owners who owned or occupied their home.

The actual credit is based on the amount of real estate taxes or rent paid and total household income (taxable and non-taxable). For more information, log on to http://dor.mo.gov/tax/personal/ptc/.

No matter where you stand on this issue, I hope you agree that Mayor Davidson and Mayor Pro Tem Tom Workman have worked extremely hard to inform the citizens on this issue, and also made themselves accessible to the public for questions during their presentations.

If you were not able to attend any of the public meetings on the property tax issue, you can view a taped presentation by Mayor Davidson that is available to the public on the Neosho Daily News’ website at www.neoshodailynews.com, or his personal website, The Boulevard Blog.

I know many of you are angry. I, too, am angry about how the city got itself in this mess.

But, we can’t change the past. Pointing fingers and laying blame won’t fix the problem.

What we can do is become more involved in the future. One thing I?will be doing in the future at the newspaper is urging city officials to publish its financial records, as a legal document, in the pages of this newspaper, as a way to provide complete and easy access to concerned citizens. This would come at a cost to the city, but I think city officials and the public would agree the small expense would be benefical in the increased transparency. I would like to see Mayor Davidson and the council agree to this no later than the start of the next fiscal year for the city on Oct. 1. I would prefer to see the financial published beginning immediately. This same offer was made to prior city management on more than one occasion, but the previous city manager never pursued it further. Give us your opinion on whether or not the city should print its financials on a monthly basis in the Daily News by answering our poll question on our website. The staff at this newspaper has taken coverage of the property tax issue very seriously, attending every citizen meeting and providing coverage throughout the process.

With that said, it’s now up to the citizens — not their elected officials — to decide the fate of Neosho’s future on Aug. 3. It doesn’t get any more democratic than this. Folks, the truth hurts, and the truth is that if the $1 per $100 assessed value property tax is not passed by voters on Aug. 3, the Neosho City Council and the city’s administration will be forced to balance the budget by Oct. 1, and to do so it will have to decrease expenses out of the general fund by $1.2 million for fiscal year 2011. The decrease in expenses must come out of the general fund, which primarily funds police and fire protection, as well as other city services — some of which you and your family may enjoy on a routine basis. If the property tax is not passed and cuts in fire protection are made, city officials have stressed there is a good chance the city’s ISO, which currently stands at 5, will increase and that citizens could very well pay more to insure their property. How much more depends on the property owned and your insurance provider.

That’s the crossroad we are faced with on Aug. 3.

I know when I walk into the polling place on Tuesday, I am going to have a hard time forgetting what Chief Hickman said during his retirement speech Friday, “This is the time, and this is the niche, to basically stand up, take pride in your community and do what is right. I am not going to tell you what to do, but do what is right in your own heart to make Neosho grow… stand up, and walk proud.”

Rick Rogers is the publisher of the Daily News.