Sep. 7—Joplin's police officers will receive pay raises that average 11.7% starting Saturday as part of a labor agreement adopted as an emergency ordinance Tuesday night by the City Council.
City Manager Nick Edwards said administrators plan to bring forward similar pay increases for firefighters in the future.
The city manager said it would mean a starting wage of $40,000 a year for police officers, although details of increases to other positions within the department were not specified in the discussion. He added that the pay increase is not competitive with the region.
"This is a short-term solution, but we will need to look at a long-term solution," the manager said.
A recent pay equity study of the city showed there are more than 100 vacancies within city departments, largely attributed to pay.
"That trend seems to be getting worse and not better," Edwards said at the council session. "There's a significant need to improve wages with hopes of improving staffing here at the city."
Edwards said members of the Fraternal Order of Police, Southwest Missouri Lodge 27, worked with city administrators to forge a collective bargaining agreement that incorporates provisions for the pay raise.
There is an additional term in the contract for 3% yearly raises over the term of the contract, which expires in 2027.
"That is made possible by several things," Edwards said. "One, we've done some expenditure savings, belt-tightening. I mentioned early on in the budget process that we look at our expenditures carefully and prioritize trying to do as much as we could for wage improvements" that will also include other city employees.
"The city also has received some increased sales tax primarily due to inflation," he said. "But our sales tax receipts have increased. and then there's an anticipation that the North Park Crossing TIF will pay off early."
Retirement of that tax increment financing district that encompasses the business district from Fourth Street to Seventh Street along the east side of Range Line Road would allow all taxes generated within the district to go to local governments including the city, the school district and the county. Under a TIF, half of the taxes in new growth created by the retail development has been going to repay development costs for streets, stormwater drainage and other costs allowed by state law.
"The funds available from those three things are allowing us to move forward and propose these increases," Edwards said. "Following this, we hope to bring forth soon similar pay increases for firefighters, and the city will need to look at increases for general employees."
General workers are those not in the public safety departments.
Tom Bowin, treasurer of the police union, said city administration has been responsive to the needs of police officers.
"We think this plan is something right now to take a step forward," he said. "I think it's what's possible for right now. It's not competitive regionally, but it helps locally, and I think it's a big step in the right direction." He hopes the city will be able to do more to push up police pay in the future with community support.
Councilman Chuck Copple said of the pay raise and new contract, "We're not through. This is just step one."
The council unanimously approved the pay increase by a vote of 9-0. It was proposed as an emergency ordinance and will take effect Saturday, according to city documents.
In addition, a proposal to continue to provide city-paid health insurance to spouses and children of police officers and firefighters who are killed or those who are injured in the line of duty was advanced on first-round approval by the council.
The proposal was introduced by state Rep. Lane Roberts, a former Joplin police chief, who led a community group including former police Chief Matt Stewart, Joplin certified public accountant Tom Franz and attorney Scott Vorhees to put together the proposal.
Roberts said after he retired as a law enforcement officer, "I experienced an event that brought me face to face with what I had been asking of my family for all of those years. I now understand in a way that I never understood before how impossible it is for us to thank the families of our police officers and firefighters for the sacrifice that they too must make."
The losses of Cpl. Ben Cooper and Officer Jake Reed, who were fatally shot while questioning a shoplifting suspect in March, and the wounding of Officer Rick Hirshey, has made those sacrifices "all too real."
When those kind of tragedies occur, the families also lose the type of the life they expected to lead with the security of the job wages and benefits, such as health insurance provided through the police and fire departments, their spouses and parents earned.
"What you're considering tonight is the right thing to do," Roberts told the council, pointing out the two dozen lost lives on the Wall of Fame at the city's justice center at 303 E. Third St.
"We do our best to prepare our officers and firefighters, but the truth is police work and firefighting are dangerous," he said. "Sometimes those folks don't come home after their shift. The very least we can do is show those officers that if they lose their life in the performance of their duties that their families would be cared for" with continuing insurance benefits.