State audit gives Harrisonville “poor” rating for mismanaged taxpayer money

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HARRISONVILLE, Mo. -- “A complete lack of planning” by city leaders is costing Harrisonville taxpayers according to Missouri's state auditor.

Nicole Galloway gave the city the lowest rating possible of poor because of layers of tax districts, no bid contracts and money being pulled from restricted funds.

Harrisonville residents started a petition drive in 2015 gathering more than 600 petitions to get Galloway to look into the finances of the city. She traveled to Harrisonville Wednesday to tell residents what she found was quite concerning.

Resident Virgil Butler was one of the first to sense problems as he watched the 291/71 Highway interchange construction and faded "for sale" signs in front of the development called Town Center. So far it boasts only a Sutherlands and Russell Stover Candies.

So he collected signatures to bring in the state auditor to investigate.

“When I initially called the auditor's office I said they loaned 1.5 million from the TDD, he said no they can’t, I said wait a minute I sat in the meeting and I heard it.”

“What we found was a city that overextended itself with taxing districts and development projects. The city is on the hook multiple times over for the same development projects because there was such poor planning and economic development that was promised did not occur,” Galloway said.

Since the city secured the debt, taxpayers have had to fork over more than $1 million to make up the shortfalls.

Missouri's state auditor gave residents more bad news, the city had indeed been taking money out of utility funds to pay for the highway project and the failing developments without any documentation or justification.

“It’s just a complete lack of planning and they need to really get their arms around their development projects first, figure out how they are going to repay the utilities and have a stable financial outlook moving forward,” she said.

The one thing the audit couldn’t determine, how much extra people might be paying in utilities as a result? Mayor Brian Hasek, elected in 2015, vowed to find out.

“I can’t say that I can fix this tomorrow, it’s going to take months to dig into this and the research but we are going to try to look at it and figure out if people are being charged appropriately because they should be,” Mayor Hasek said.

The audit also found Harrisonville didn’t always comply with Sunshine Law, closing meetings that should have been open to the public. She agreed with residents who voiced concerned those violations make it difficult for citizens to keep tabs on exactly what’s going on with their government. But because of that “poor” rating, the auditor plans to return to Harrisonville later this year to see if things have changed.