Joplin budget priorities outlined by city manager

·4 min read

Sep. 21—Next fiscal year's city budget of nearly $150 million has four key priorities that the city manager outlined Tuesday night during the first of three Joplin City Council budget sessions.

"The city is required to have a balanced budget," City Manager Nick Edwards said. "That forces us to make a lot of decisions because we don't have resources to address all of the needs."

But work needs to advance on the city's strategic plan effort, and that is one of the priorities set for fiscal 2022-2023, he said.

That involves advancing efforts on some of the 42 action plans developed to address the strategic plan's six goals set by the council.

Another focus is how to address homelessness, Edwards said. A community-based homeless strategic plan is to be developed because issues with homelessness continue to be expressed by council members and residents, the budget states. Development of that plan will involve bringing together nonprofit organizations and service providers to collaborate on a plan. There is $95,000 allocated for that work, and that money is to come from the use tax revenue.

A third priority is to implement a new system for city departments to streamline timekeeping and record keeping of payroll records for the city's 598 employees. That is to cost $247,000.

The fourth key is hiring of park rangers, which is in the budget proposal at a cost of $113,158. The funding source is the use tax portion of the parks and stormwater sales tax. There also will be supply and equipment costs for those positions at $66,000.

Leslie Haase, finance director, said the budget forecast for sales taxes is that they will increase 2% in the upcoming fiscal year. Total revenue in the budget proposal is estimated at slightly more than $140 million.

During upcoming sessions, the council will be asked to decide some spending items, including the annual contract with the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce. That will be part of the discussion at the Wednesday night session.

In terms of city employment, there is to be the addition of 10 jobs, including six new firefighters to staff Fire Station No. 7, currently under construction in the area of Crossroads Center Business and Distribution Park.

The city manager said room in the budget was preserved to give wage increases to city employees. That cost will be added to the budget at the time that those pay raises are approved, he said.

Haase said that city officials have heard a number of people comment that the city should make better spending decisions and tighten its belt. But, as an example of how careful the city has been in spending, wages and city pay have increased on average only about 1% a year. The positions being filled this year as the result of additional revenue is the first time in 10 years positions have increased, she said.

Wages for general city employees and police and firefighters not paid from the public safety sales tax fund amount to $18.9 million, or about 74% of the general fund.

Councilman Chuck Copple asked if that is pay for those on the job at this time or if it includes unfilled positions. The city as a whole has about 75 positions unfilled. Haase said that is the pay for current employees and does not include open jobs.

There is no proposal to raise police and fire wages to an increased pay scale that would be competitive regionally. The city manager said he has heard from some local business leaders that they would like to help look for an answer for that. Edwards said city officials may consider expanding the council's finance committee to do that.

Through the remainder of the meeting, department heads went through the major initiatives and purchases to be made by their departments.

Wednesday's session is to start at 5:45 p.m. and will include discussion of the chamber contract.

Councilman Mark Farnham asked how the chamber's funding of $252,000 is determined. The city manager said he would discuss that in detail at the Wednesday meeting.

The finance director said that once proposed budget discussions are completed, she will have any amendments completed and the final budget ready for an Oct. 17 meeting. The council will be asked to adopt the budget so that it can go into effect for the Nov. 1 start of the fiscal year.