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Posted on: May 31, 2022

Council places property tax question to support Public Safety services on August 2 ballot

Later this summer, Joplin voters will be asked whether they support a property tax to support and grow public safety services in our community. The City Council recently passed an ordinance to place a question on the August 2, 2022 ballot asking Joplin citizens if they would approve a property tax designated for “municipal public safety services” in Joplin. The question is titled Proposition Public Safety on the ballot.

City Manager Nick Edwards introduced the discussion during the May 16, 2022, Council meeting and reviewed the City’s history of working to improve wages for public safety. He opened the presentation by saying that those following the City’s conversations are familiar with the constraints the organization faces, however, others may not be aware of how the City has reached this point and the issues facing the community. 

“Serving the businesses and citizens of Joplin is a point of pride for the City including the public safety professionals, and to have a vibrant community with a high quality of life and strong public safety services are essential.” 

The Joplin Police Department has 16 openings but needs an additional 22 officers over and above that to meet nationally recognized law enforcement standards. The Joplin Fire Department has also experienced shortages in recent years.

“The City is faced with a significant shortage of officers to patrol and enforce the laws within the City,” he said.  Even after positive improvements were made, extraordinary new challenges presented themselves. After Prop B, the City faced challenges brought on by the pandemic such as the ‘great resignation’ with people leaving the workforce. Like the private sector, this continues to impact the City in the same way. Following Prop Action, the City faced a new economic reality of increased costs and competition with increasing private-sector wages and opportunities. Behind every positive step, in the current environment, there is a seemingly bigger and more difficult step to make. Thankfully, past Councils and the citizens and businesses have responded to great challenges like this in the past.” 

Joplin citizens will vote on Proposition Public Safety that would levy a property tax of $1 per every $100 of assessed value on all real and personal property. The funds generated would be designated to improve public safety services in Joplin. Currently, the City has one of the lowest property tax rates in the state at $0.1746. The majority of funding for the City’s current budget comes from a sales tax. In 2020, Joplin City Council established several goals including creating resilient revenue to improve city service, so as not to rely solely on sales tax revenues.

Mayor Doug Lawson recognizes the impact this issue has on residents, visitors, and the future of Joplin, saying,  “We are competing with Police Departments across the country.  Appropriate pay is a necessary part of attracting the kind of talent that our citizens expect and deserve. This proposition would address the staffing and pay issues that have been identified in independent resource allocation studies for each department. The reports showed needs, not wants, for the City to improve our public safety services. The key to our future is healthy growth.  Attracting people and investment requires a sense of security on the part of our present and future citizens and businesses.  Safety, then, is critical to Joplin's growth and prosperity.”

At the close of his presentation, Edwards said, “I’ve had the fortune of working with great people from the FOP and the IAFF looking at the funding, but also the solutions,” and invited Tom Bowin, Treasurer of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 27 and Jeremie Humphrey, President of the Joplin Professional Firefighters Local 59, to provide their comments about the proposal. 

Bowin began by stating that Joplin was not the only community facing these issues, as agencies are having to choose whether they lower hiring standards or cut services to their citizens while working to find some way to better attract qualified public safety applicants. He noted that Joplin has had a turnover rate of more than 34% each year for the past several years. The department should employ 110 sworn officers, although there are only 78 officers currently available on the street. This gap creates more work for those in the department as they take on additional responsibilities. 

“It is our belief that the funding this plan will provide will take great leaps toward addressing these issues. And the proposed pay plan will make us competitive with similar agencies in the region and state. The FOP has spent years working with City leadership striving for a solution to our crisis. The City now has a plan designed to address the two most stated reasons why our officers are leaving,” referring to pay and workload.

Humphrey also addressed the Council noting the support of the IAFF members for Proposition Public Safety. “This is the plan that addresses our number one issue – pay. Let’s give the citizens the chance to say we support this plan.”

Proposition Public Safety

Shall the City Council of the City of Joplin, Missouri, be authorized to levy and impose annually for municipal public safety purposes upon all subjects and objects of taxation within its corporate limits a tax which shall not exceed the maximum rate of one dollar on the one hundred dollars assesses valuation?

More information about Proposition Public Safety will be posted on the City’s website at www.joplinmo.org/elections. Members of City staff and the Citizens Committee would also be available to talk with groups seeking more information. Please contact Lynn Onstot, Public Information, at 417-624-0820, ext. 1204, if interested in having them at your meeting.

Voter registration is open through July 6, 2022, to be eligible to vote for the August 2, 2022, election. Please contact the County Clerk’s office in your home county for more information.