By Debby Woodin
JOPLIN, Mo. —
A proposal to establish a finance committee to advise the Joplin City Council is not favored by City Manager Mark Rohr.
The council is slated to discuss the issue at its informal session today.
Councilman Morris Glaze in May introduced the proposal by resident Tom Franz, who works as a contract financial consultant through his firm, TJ Franz and Associates.
“I just realized a lot of council members don’t have a finance background,” Franz told the Globe of the suggestion. “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 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 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.
After the request was made by Franz in a May council meeting, the council asked Rohr to provide a report on his view of the suggestion.
Rohr, in a letter to the council obtained by the Globe through an open-records request, wrote that during his tenure, the general fund balance has grown from less than $4 million in 2005 to $30 million at the end of 2012.
“This has occurred during a period of economic downtown in the country as a whole, in spite of a devastating natural disaster and during what can arguably be maintained as the greatest period of sustained capital improvements in the city’s history,” Rohr wrote. “All of this has occurred by design and not by chance.”
Rohr said the introduction of an advisory committee on city financial decisions could create delays in moving projects forward.
Additionally, Rohr wrote: “The council-manager form of government was founded on the principle of removing politics from the daily operations of the city. Adding an additional board to the appointment process could introduce the specter of politics in an area that desperately needs to avoid just that.”
Franz, in a letter to the council in response to Rohr’s, cited several factors he believes contributed to the city’s financial status that Rohr did not cite. Those include a 9 percent sales tax windfall in the year after the tornado; the passage of a half-cent sales tax for public safety that has paid for new personnel, equipment and training in the fire and police departments; and a shortfall in the city’s ailing Police and Firemen’s Pension Fund that is not recorded as a liability against the city’s financial statements.
Franz wrote that he found the city manager’s remarks about politics a concern: “While city staff is competent, like all humans they have ‘politics’ in their recommendations which are very heavily weighted toward the city manager’s viewpoint (i.e. politics).”
The underfunded pension plan was cited as an example of politics that resulted in decisions that caused problems for the fund, including council decisions not to fund the plan at the rate recommended by its actuary. Franz contends that an advisory committee could help the council see more clearly the potential risks of decisions.
Glaze has said he supported the idea particularly in view of the decisions facing the council with tornado redevelopment projects and the spending of extensive public money for those projects.
During its formal meeting tonight, the council will conduct a public hearing on the use of $113 million in Community Development Block Grant funds. The money is proposed to be used as part of a $130 recovery plan that would fund street, sewer and other infrastructure repairs, a $40 million field house, and job and industrial park expansion programs.
Public hearings are scheduled on several zoning issues, including:
• A proposal to build multiple apartment buildings on part of the old Joplin Stockyards land on Newman Road. The plan threatens their peace and privacy, local property owners told members of Joplin’s Planning and Zoning Commission at a meeting last month. The commission advanced the proposal despite the opposition.
Owners of the former stockyards site are seeking rezoning of the southwest section of their property between Florida and Turk avenues south of Newman Road to build the apartment complex. The land is zoned for industrial use, and the owners have applied for multifamily residential rezoning.
A number of residents on nearby Grace Drive have objected.
• Renewal of a special-use permit for USA Metal Recycling, 2000 W. Seventh St. The request has been opposed by three neighbors because of noise and dust complaints.
THE CITY COUNCIL’S formal meeting is at 6 p.m. today on the fifth floor of City Hall, 602 S. Main St.