The village of Innsbrook, Missouri, plans to build a new village hall using its ARPA money despite opposition from some residents of the Warren County town.
Editor's note: The Village on Innsbrook sent a PDF of what they believe are innacuracies in this story. You can read the village's response here.
Innsbrook residents are concerned after the village board has explored spending more than $1 million to build a new village hall.
The new building, according to Innsbrook resident Steve Gissy, would be 4,100 square feet, house several offices and a meeting room that could hold up to 100 people. It would be paid for with a USDA loan, and the city’s American Rescue Plan Act money would be used as a down payment.
According to the 2020 census, Innsbrook has a population of less than 850 people, causing residents like Gissy to question the need for such a large and expensive government building.
“They’re spending half our equity on this thing,” Gissy said.
Gissy was concerned about the increase to the city budget and the decrease in the city’s surplus.
Financial records show that the city had a surplus of $163,656.07 in the amended 2022-2023 budget. That number dropped to negative $241,361 in the 2023-2024 budget, a difference of more than $405,000.
“The surplus went down on the financial statements by $400,000. There were no footnotes. They spent $56,000 back in 2020 on the new village hall, but there’s no footnote as to what that is. So they’re writing checks without documentation in the financials.”
The Record reached out to Innsbrook village officials for clarification and additional information regarding the financials and the decision to build a new village hall. However, Innsbrook City Administrator/Clerk Carla Ayala said she did not like to be quoted in the newspaper and Village Board Chairman Dan Reuter said he did not want to answer questions but did provide a statement.
The village has more than $100,000 in ARPA money to use toward a downpayment on the loan, but that number nor the price tag of the proposed new village hall has not been confirmed by village officials. A timeline for the project has not been established and the loan has yet been approved by the USDA.
But former village board member Ted Sator, who left the board in May, said he was opposed to a new village hall.
“Fiscally, it makes no sense,” he said.
Sator said discussions for a new village hall began when the Innsbrook Corporation allegedly told the village it planned to demolish the current building. But Sator said that was “colossally wrong,” saying the corporation never expressed that to the city.
“There’s no mandate to move,” Sator said.
Gissy was also concerned about how little public discussion there has been surrounding the decision to build a new village hall.
“I haven’t talked to a person yet that knew about the city hall and the amount of money they were going to spend,” he said. “But if this thing goes through and it’s not publicized or put out there, people are going to be up in arms.”
The village did have a public hearing for residents to speak for or against the idea at its Jan. 10 meeting. The hearing was publicized in The Warren County Record in both the Dec. 15 and Dec. 29, 2022, editions.
The public notice included an incorrect date for the meeting, which was scheduled for Jan. 10, 2023. The typo was included on the original document, and the public notice was approved by village officials prior to publication.
No member of the public spoke during the January hearing, according to a video recording of the meeting published to the village’s YouTube page.
“No one seems to remember there being a town hall meeting to discuss moving forward on this,” Gissy said. He said he addressed that with Ayala, and Gissy said he was told the village had placed the public notice and that was all the village was statutorily required to do before proceeding.
“So they feel they have the right to proceed and spend money and build this building,” Gissy said.
In his statement to The Record, Reuter said he was willing to have a dialogue with any upset resident.
“I’m willing to listen to anybody who has anything to say,” he said. “We’re open to what residents want. But that doesn’t mean that’s what they’re going to get.”
Gissy said that was exactly the response he got when he spoke directly to Reuter.
“He doesn’t plan on readdressing the Village Hall,” he said. “He’s moving forward to get that building built.”
And Gissy said he was concerned that the current village board felt the same way.
“I think as soon as they win an election, every elected individual gets a glass of Kool-aid,” he said. “And they drink it and they turn into bureaucrats.”
Gissy addressed the issue during the Aug. 8 meeting and said he did not feel it was received well by the trustees.
“You could see antagonism in their eyes,” he said. “It was people against the government.”
Another issue some residents have with the village’s decision to push forward with a new village hall is that it comes at the expense of the Wags and Whiskers animal shelter under construction in Innsbrook.
The shelter had requested $40,000 of the city’s ARPA money, but was denied.
In the information Ayala did provide to The Record, she said the village never asked for any group to apply to receive ARPA money from the city.
“Three separate times a board member for Wags and Whiskers reached out to the Village of Innsbrook and never received an official application process,” Katie Joyce said. Joyce serves as the president of Wags and Whiskers and also as their legal counsel. “So Wags and Whiskers submitted a request by letter for it to be considered as part of the ARPA funds allocation.”
The village denied the group’s request for the money.
“They stated at the time of the decision, I believe, that it was going to be used for a down payment toward the new village hall,” Joyce said.
Joyce said the group appealed that decision through the board of adjustment specifically concerning “that there was no notice given out to the village in general for public hearing on those ARPA funds. It was just included with the budget that they had a public hearing on.”
Joyce then explained what Wags and Whiskers had pursued following the rejection.
“When Wags and Whiskers noticed that ARPA funds were included on the agenda item, then Wags and Whiskers reached out again to the Village of Innsbrook and asked if the application would be included then to the current trustees, because the trustees in June 2023 were different than the trustees who were active when the original letter was sent with the application,” Joyce said.
New trustees had been elected in April 2023, and two additional board members were appointed in May 2023 replacing trustees who had stepped down.
“So there was a request of was the application/letter going to be included and did Wags and Whiskers need to be there at that meeting. The village then told Wags and Whiskers, ‘no, you don’t need to be there’ and had reported that the letter would be included to the trustees for the vote.”
The appeal addresses “a concern that the process was not followed and there was not the opportunity for Wags and Whiskers to present the information of what the request was,” Joyce said.
Joyce said the village responded back saying they believe the decision to deny the ARPA money to Wags and Whiskers was a legislative decision and not an administrative decision, so they believe it does not qualify for an appeal through the board of adjustment.
Joyce, who also serves as the city attorney for Truesdale, said she was surprised at how Innsbrook trustees went about handling the situation.
“I was expecting more of a response of ‘we will set a special meeting for this’ or ‘we will then ask for more public comment to make sure that the board is representing what their public wants,’ ” she said. “I kind of expected to see notice of a special meeting where public comment would be open just to see if there were other individuals in the village who had similar concerns just so they could make sure they’re properly representing what the people of the village wanted.”
Ayala, the village administrator and clerk, and Reuter, the chairman, both emphasized that the people most opposed to the building of a new village hall were those upset that Wags and Whiskers were denied ARPA money.
“I know Wags and Whiskers is something we have supported from day one,” Reuter said in his statement. “I think they didn’t get what they wanted. We had a decision to make regarding the monies given to the municipality.”
But Joyce said she doesn’t believe that’s what is happening.
“I think often there’s the viewpoint of ‘well, you didn’t give me this, so now I’m going to stomp my feet and demand you give this to me because I want it’ kind of a situation,’ ” she said. “I think it’s more of the concerns with the process and the concern of is the money being allocated where it’s supposed to be allocated under the final rule and does the final destination of where it’s currently marked for actually qualify under the rule as well. It’s kind of a concern since we were a party now involved in this because we applied for it.”
Joyce said now the issue is less about Wags and Whiskers and more about making sure everything was done properly.
“Naturally Wags and Whiskers would love to be included in the distribution. That’s why we applied in the first place,” Joyce said. “But I think it was more a concern of making sure that the process was followed correctly and we didn’t receive notice and other board members were hearing pretty repeatedly through this ‘oh, I think the village is going to keep for ourselves,’ and along those lines.”
Gissy, who said he has no affiliation with Wags and Whiskers, was also concerned by the lack of transparency from village officials.
“We have tried to be careful not to misrepresent numbers or issues to be emotional,” he said. “I think there’s plenty of black and white facts that we don’t have to get emotional about. All we’re doing is stating the facts and government and everything else all you get is crickets quiet.”
The next meeting of the village trustees is at 5 p.m. Sept. 19 at the Innsbrook Village Hall.
Gissy hopes those who are concerned about the village’s decision to pursue a new village hall will come and speak during that meeting.
“This thing makes no sense,” Gissy said. “And I think we’re going to be the laughing stock of Warren County. They’re going to say ‘oh those rich people in Innsbrook, they can build whatever they want. They just throw money around like crazy.’ I don’t think anybody wants this and we certainly don’t need it.”
Sator, the former board member, had a similar thought.
“I’m just hoping that common sense will prevail,” he said.
About the author: Jason Koch is the editor of The Warren County Record, and covers local news and government for the newspaper. He has won multiple awards from both the Indiana and Illinois APME and from the Illinois Press Association. He can be reached at 636-456-6397 or at email@example.com