Mo. city approves pay increase for firefighters, cops

Joplin firefighters will see an average of a 2 to 4 percent pay raise next year

By Tyler Wornell
The Joplin Globe

JOPLIN, Mo. — Some Joplin public safety workers will see an average of a 2 to 4 percent pay raise next year, a plan that was approved Monday night by the Joplin City Council.

The council unanimously approved the pay raises, which were part of an administrative plan created by the city manager at the direction of council to address concerns of lagging wages and the loss of experienced workers. City officials conducted a wage comparison earlier this year that found salaries for Joplin police officers and firefighters were less than those of regional agencies, such as in Springfield and cities in Northwest Arkansas.

Individual raises for firefighters will average 2 percent, with some seeing up to a 13 percent increase. For police, raises will average 4 percent, with some officers seeing up to a 15 percent increase.

Most workers citywide received pay raises in August when the 2 percent step plan was adopted. They cost more than $800,000.

The funding for the police and fire raises will come from the half-cent public safety sales tax that already pays salaries and benefits for officers and firefighters and took effect in 2007. The pay raises for one year will cost $362,000, according to city documents.

Councilman Phil Stinnett voted for the the pay raises, but not without reservation. He said the cost of living is higher in other places that pay higher wages, and he doesn’t “believe 100 percent” that Joplin employees are leaving solely because of pay.

“I don’t disagree that we need to improve where we’re at on wages, but I do believe we need to be realistic about what we’re trying to accomplish on those wages,” Stinnett said. “We are not going to be able to pay the same rate of pay as other places because we just don’t generate the same tax revenues.”

The proposed raises are aimed at 50 percent of the average between Joplin pay and the pay in Springfield and four Northwest Arkansas cities. That number was set after the city did its wage comparison looking at salaries in Springfield, and Rogers, Bentonville and Fayetteville in Arkansas, which showed officers and firefighters in those cities on average made more than Joplin workers.

Stinnett also took issue with using the public safety sales tax to fund the raises. The sales tax fund includes money for another fire station that hasn’t yet been built and streetlights throughout the city, a project nearing completion.

“Right or wrong, I’m a big believer that when the people vote on something, they have a right to expect that that’s what they’re going to get,” Stinnett said. “I have a problem using this until we finish the things we told the voters we would do with the tax.”

City Finance Director Leslie Haase presented a financial estimate to the council showing that the pay raises’ expenditures in the tax fund would make it impossible to fund the raises, streetlights, personnel and operating costs for the fire station.

Discussions surrounding the wage increases had heated up over the past few months, with some residents coming to council meetings to scold council members over the issue. Other residents started recall petition drives for Stinnett, Mayor Gary Shaw and Mayor Pro Tem Ryan Stanley.

Council members indicated a willingness to push the salary increase to 80 percent of the average between Joplin and the other agencies but that another funding source would need to be identified. The finance committee is formulating a report looking at possible revenue streams.

Councilman Taylor Brown said he supported the pay raises not because of retention, other cities or to get favor from residents, but rather because it’s the right thing to do. He said public safety is a personal value but also a value he’s seen the community prioritize.

“I’m doing this for the future of our community, for my daughter to be safe, for our city to be safe,” Brown said. “I’m putting my money where my values are, not to keep up with Arkansas or Springfield.”

Copyright 2018 The Joplin Globe

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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