Joplin council approves budgeting park ranger jobs

·3 min read

Sep. 23—Budgeting for park projects and the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce were the two major discussions Thursday night during the Joplin City Council's final budget session this week.

Adding two park rangers positions to the proposed 2023-2023 budget won majority approval, but there was extensive discussion before the 6-3 vote. Those who voted against funding the jobs were Kate Spencer, Mark Farnham and Gary Shaw. They voiced concerns about the safety of the positions and whether they should be trained in security or law enforcement.

The proposal resulted from public comments made to city officials by residents who said they have safety concerns in the parks.

The council decision will schedule funding for two park rangers so that there is weeklong coverage. The rangers are intended to greet and provide information to visitors, check conditions at parks and report problems or needed repairs, and patrol to help give park users a sense of security. Those jobs were proposed after city officials heard concerns from residents that they sometimes felt unsafe in the parks.

The cost is estimated at $179,158. Of that, $113,158 would be for wages and benefits for the two positions and $66,000 for vehicles and equipment. Those costs would be paid by funds from the parks and stormwater sales tax fund as a project to reduce crime and increase safety that is part of the Proposition Action use tax action plans for community betterment.

Members of a committee of residents that promoted the use tax proposal are monitoring the implementation of the action plans to make community improvements.

Spencer said she understood why the positions were proposed, but she thought it would be dangerous to put unarmed rangers in the parks. They would work 3 p.m. to midnight shifts.

Farnham said he agreed with Spencer's opinion and thought the rangers should be fully trained police officers under the police department rather than the parks department.

Shaw also said he believed it should be a police job because the rangers could face challenges.

Police Chief Sloan Rowland said he is developing a training program for the rangers. They would not carry guns, but there would be strict limits on what they could do. They also would have radios that would directly connect to the police department.

Park Director Paul Bloomberg said the role of the rangers is to be ambassadors more than enforcers so that parks visitors would have someone to talk to if there is a need or a question.

In another parks question, the council voted to include more than $2.7 million in use tax proceeds over 10 years for parks maintenance and beautification. It would provide wages to add an assistant director to the parks department over maintenance and beautification of parks and cemeteries and two full-time labor positions.

It also would involve adding new entryway signs at major parks, installing information kiosks at parks and wayfinding information on city trails and paying for landscaping materials and maintenance for 11 parks.

Funding to renew the annual contract with the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce and MOKAN Partnership was authorized at the same cost as in recent years, $252,000.

The council also authorized a city holiday for the observance of Juneteenth, which has been declared a national and state holiday.

The panel late Thursday was discussing whether to grant a pay increase of 2% for general city employees on anniversaries and a 2% cost-of-living increase or to give a one-time 4% raise.

Police recently received raises of nearly 12%, but contract talks with firefighters are ongoing. Their wages were not part of this week's budget discussions.