By Debby Woodin
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Joplin city officials are studying the idea of creating a finance committee that would serve as an advisory board to the City Council.
Councilman Morris Glaze introduced the suggestion at a recent council meeting.
Tom Franz, a Joplin resident who is a contract financial consultant to a number of companies, made the proposal.
Franz said he got the idea by serving on the city’s Sales Tax Oversight Committee.
“I just realized a lot of council members don’t have a finance background,” he said. “If you don’t, it can be hard to understand and interpret the long-term implications of financial decisions.”
Glaze said he favored the idea because it could be a way for City Council members to have more involvement in the city’s budgeting steps.
“I think a finance committee could provide insights into the budget early on in the budget process,” Franz said. “The city has goals and the budget helps get to your long-term goals. The council should be as involved in those, especially on the front end. They should know how to use the budget to get to the goals you want to achieve.”
Franz said the finance committee would not make spending decisions. “This is just financial advice on how to make decisions,” he said.
Franz said the proposal does not mean that city workers are not doing a good job handling the city’s finances. The intent is to provide advice to the council to achieve goals and weigh projects to maintain the city’s financial stability in the future.
Glaze said that he and many other council members do not have extensive backgrounds in financial analysis, and periodic discussions with finance specialists could help them make beneficial decisions.
Expert advice would be particularly helpful in dealing with key city issues such as the troubled Police and Firemen’s Pension Fund, and the tornado redevelopment financing decisions that will come in the future, Franz and Glaze said.
The funding level of the pension plan has fallen below 60 percent because of changes made a decade ago that allowed retirements at 20 years instead of 30, with refunds to the workers of the money they contributed to the plan. The city has twice made $1 million infusions to the fund to try to prop it up.
“Thirty-two or thirty-three cities have gone bankrupt in the last two years,” Franz said. “Every one of those cities had a council who thought they were doing the right thing. But they went bankrupt on pension issues, trash-to-energy plants and other decisions where they didn’t understand the financial implications. I don’t want to see that happen in Joplin.”
Council members heard the proposal during an informal meeting in April. They agreed to give it consideration.
Mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean asked City Manager Mark Rohr to provide a report to the council on the administration’s assessment of the request.
The idea for a finance committee that would serve as an advisory board to the City Council is supported by Clive Veri, president of Commerce Bank, and Ron Gatz, chief operating officer of Empire District Electric Co., the council was told.