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Primary day during a midterm election year is typically not the time for the highest scrutiny on ballot measures. But next month in Joplin, Missouri, residents will decide their third Proposition in less than a year. If approved by a 50% plus one vote majority (down from the 57.14% that was required for the rebab of Memorial Hall in April), Proposition Public Safety has the opportunity to reshape the police and fire payscale, not only for Joplin but for neighboring communities 80 miles in any direction. (Proposition Public Safety ordinance below)
Even before the pandemic, law enforcement and fire protection jobs were brutal to fill in Joplin. A new JPD recruit starts at $32,000 annually or about $16.41 an hour. At a community meeting last week to discuss the upcoming vote on the Proposition, a representative of the Joplin fire said stated that their new hires earn $11.75 an hour or $22,913. These wages are not uncommon in the Four State area.
If you visit the job search website Indeed.com and search the phrase Police Officer and Webb City, you’ll discover that the community just north of Joplin starts their police officers out at between $15 – $20 an hour which is between $31,200 and $41,600 annually. If Proposition Public Safety passes on Tuesday, starting salaries at JPD would nearly mirror the highest salary a street cop could earn in Webb City.
Also, Joplin is hardly the only community in Missouri that is competing for police officers. A search on Indeed.com on Sunday, July 31, just three days before the vote on PPS, resulted in 129 police officers’ jobs in Missouri alone. That is not factoring in Kansas, which has 77 law enforcement jobs posted. Another 58 opportunities for officers in Oklahoma. Or Arkansas, with 40 more choices for new and current police officers.
In total, that’s 304 police officer jobs in Missouri and its neighboring states, the overwhelming majority of them paying higher wages than Joplin.
For instance, Bentonville, Arkansas, has been brought up at city council meetings by Joplin residents and city council members. It is one of seven of the communities that were a part of Joplin’s most recent salary evaluation study (click on Market Study Update also below) that is both ridiculed by both residents and city council members but also very helpful in attempting to figure out and assess what city employees should be paid.
Bentonville has a job listing that indicates they are hiring multiple candidates with a starting salary of $42,042. If Joplin residents approve Proposition Public Safety, the city’s police and fire starting salaries will align with Bentonville’s. Suppose PPS isn’t supported and police and fire personnel will leave or be recruited to other communities. In that case, the salary study, which was presented to the council on February 7, will tell the story of why they left.
The two-year study collected data from March 2020 and April 2021 from seven nearby cities, Bentonville, Ar, Branson, Jefferson City, Liberty, Springfield, St. Joseph, and Fort Smith, Ar. For police officers, Joplin pays about 13% less on average when compared to the seven cities mentioned above. The wage gap increases for police sergeants and the chief of police. Joplin pays their police sergeant between 14 and 20 percent less and their police chief between 17 and 26 percent less annually for similar jobs. The figures are very similar for Joplin’s firefighters, where the city pays between 16 and 18 percent less than the above communities.
Also, I should highlight that lower salaries for Joplin employees are not only restricted to fire and police staff. Most of the wages for Joplin city staff are below salaries in nearby cities.
Joplin is a proud community where you can find Back the Blue flags and numerous yard signs supporting police and fire. It’s a city that for years relied on the strength of its sales tax revenue to generate income to operate, which is also understandable considering its prime location near the intersection of Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma. One underlying theme in Joplin is the distrust and mistrust of both Joplin city government and its city council.
Projects like the failed bond measure and rehab of Memorial Hall earlier this year and the remaining questions of what will become of the building. Also, regardless of how nice and modern Connect2Culture’s new Cornell Complex is, longtime Joplin residents will likely never forgive or forget where the facility was constructed and view it as a giveaway of city property that the non-profit should have paid for. Not to mention the parking issues at the new complex brought up by residents on their own when I ask about the nearly completed project.
There is also the constant reminder of the former downtown home of the Joplin public library. Now vacant for five years, the prime real estate is passed by 1,000’s drivers on Main street daily.
At the community meeting last Wednesday night City Manger Nick Edwards was asked what would happen if Proposition Public Safety didn’t pass. He replied that the city would have to develop a “band-aid,” drawing the ire of residents in attendance. The fact is, PPS is the bandaid, and without its passage, the city’s ability to hire new police and fire staff, much less keep the staff it has, faces a dark, uncertain future.
Rita Ball, like about 18% of Joplin residents, is 65 years and older. She is uncertain whether to vote for Proposition Public Safety. She’s a nearly lifelong Joplin resident who has owned her home for decades. The new tax would cost her between $200 and $300 annually, and she’s concerned that it would strain her finances. Like many other of Joplin’s senior citizens, Rita would likely qualify for the Missouri Property Tax Credit. If PPS passed, she would be able to recoup 100% of taxes paid towards the Proposition if she chooses.
Mike Siebert served on the Joplin city council from 2008 until 2018. For the final four years, from 2014 until 2018, he served as the city’s mayor. He is also the co-chairman of the citizen’s committee in favor of passing Proposition Public Safety.
Community activist Abbie Covington and lifelong Joplin resident monitors the Joplin city and city staff. She’s a regular speaker/presenter at city council meetings, and publisher of the website JoplinSential.com. Abbie initially favored the passing of PPS. Her mind changed when she further researched the city’s budget and found millions of dollars that she says could be used as a stopgap for one year, so that city staff, council, and residents have more time to assess the situation. Regardless, she supports law enforcement and police and is disappointed that it has come to such drastic measures.
It seems that Nick Edwards has served as Joplin city manager for a decade, although it’s only been two and half years since he was hired. Regardless, the work he’s accomplished has been unbelievable when you consider the history of past Joplin city managers. Nick has worked tirelessly to help reshape a community where many distrust the government, dating back to at least 2011 (post-Joplin tornado) and perhaps even longer.
Police department resource allocation study presented to Joplin city council on April 25, 2022.
2021 year-end crime statistics (Crime, accidents and property crime were all down in Joplin last year)