Every year, millions of home and business owners across the country pay municipal property taxes. These taxes are collected, typically by a city collector, and are then distributed across the city government wherever needed.
In Bolivar, that isn’t the case.
Southwest Baptist University professor Coyle Neal was elected as Bolivar’s city collector in 2017, and then re-elected this past April.
According to city ordinance, the city collector has the duties of collecting all fees, penalties and costs assessed to taxpayers for services of the collector, and then paying them to the general fund of the city.
In reality, Neal said, “there are zero duties attached to the city collector.”
“This position just exists,” Neal added.
The state of Missouri requires all cities with an imposed property tax to employ a city collector, Bolivar included.
“But the property tax is currently set at 0%, so there’s no job,” Neal said. “There’s nothing to collect.”
With a property tax in the books but not being actively collected, Bolivar’s collector is a position required but not needed, he said.
And with little responsibility comes little compensation.
“I think there’s a salary attached that’s like a dollar a year or something,” Neal said. “I’ve never collected it, so I don’t actually know. I’ve generously returned it to the city.”
Running for office
Although the position of city collector doesn’t seem to have much importance in city government, the people of Bolivar still wanted to choose who filled the role.
“A few years back, they put on the ballot to switch it from an elected position to an appointed position, and the people of Bolivar voted no,” Neal said.
According to previous BH-FP news coverage, the decision was made by a slim margin on April 7, 2015. The option to switch the position from elected to appointed received 541 votes, while 559 people voted to keep the process the same.
Neal said he ran for office in 2017 because he “thought it might be interesting to run.”
“I had never run for elected office before, and it was an office that didn’t have any job requirements,” he said. “There was nothing to do, and the wife says I’m very good at doing nothing, so I thought, ‘Hey, that’s the job for me.’”
He said after being elected, he completed his one and only task as city collector — being sworn in. The swearing in happens at a board of aldermen meeting, which Neal said he isn’t very familiar with.
“I have actually never been to a full board of aldermen meeting,” he said. “I think I’ve only been to four partial ones — the two where I was sworn in, and the two where my wife (Ward 4 Alderman Alexis Neal) was sworn in. And I didn’t stay for all of those because I had to go watch the kids.”
When asked if he plans to run again for the collector position in 2021, Neal said, “Yes, unless there’s some reason that they actually need someone who can collect taxes.”
The term for Bolivar’s collector is two years, and Neal said extending the length of the terms would be the only change he’d make to the position.
Duties outside of collecting
With no duties regarding the city collector position, Neal focuses his time on teaching at SBU.
Neal has been teaching mostly U.S. government and “just a touch of political philosophy” at the university for six years, he said.
Neal and his wife, Alexis, moved to Bolivar in 2013 for the job at SBU, and they have two sons who are Bolivar natives.
He spends his summer days with his kids, planning for the upcoming semester, and teaches students throughout the school year.
His role as a government teacher played a part in him running for office as collector, he said.
“Everything I know about the position or about city government in general is because I teach politics and read the newspaper,” he said. “Like I said, I don’t even go to meetings.”
This is part two of a multi-part series documenting the roles of local elected officials. Keep an eye out for additional installments in upcoming editions of the Bolivar Herald-Free Press.