The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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August 31, 2012

Joplin council to eye $192 million budget

City manager: Plan to set stage for Joplin’s future

Joplin’s city manager is proposing an annual budget of more than $192 million, which would be the city’s largest.

Mark Rohr says it is the most comprehensive spending plan he has presented during his tenure in Joplin.

“The significance is not the numbers but what they represent for the future of the city,” Rohr said. “It addresses things from the past that need to be addressed and provides things that will set the stage for the future of Joplin.”

Operating expenses are estimated at $114. 9 million, up from about $87 million in the current year’s budget. There is about $77 million in expenditures on capital projects proposed, some of them related to Joplin’s recovery from the disastrous 2011 tornado. The bulk is related to street work that is called for from the city’s sales taxes, including the capital projects sales tax.

Not all of the work is expected to be done in the next fiscal year, but it must be shown in the budget in order to do any preliminary work, said Leslie Jones, the city’s finance director. The budget also contains some amounts for projects that are under way, such as $23 million in renovations and upgrades to the city’s wastewater treatment plants and sewer system voters previously approved.

LARGE ITEMS

Among the largest of those capital projects:

• $27 million in street projects and $3.5 million in stormwater drainage repairs.

• $22 million in Community Development Block Grant funds the budget makes available. Rohr said that represents about half the federal CDBG grant money allocated to the city for tornado recovery projects, but there is no plan yet for how to spend the money. Some of the money may be used for projects to be undertaken by the city’s master developer, Wallace Bajjali Development Partners. The money is granted for housing and projects in low-income areas of the city, and the master developer has several housing projects and economic development plans that might qualify for that use.

• $6.2 million for parks projects including construction of the new Schifferdecker Aquatic Park and a new off-leash dog park.

• $4.8 million for street paving.

• $3.7 million in building projects including $2.9 million for replacement of two fire stations destroyed in the 2011 tornado.

• $1 million to devise a new master plan for Joplin Regional Airport. The last plan was made in 2002 and most of the work identified in it has been accomplished.

BUDGET ADDITiONS

Rohr proposes making an extra contribution of $1 million to the ailing Police and Firefighters Pension Fund as part of a multistep plan to increase the funding level. He said public pensions across the nation are afflicted with underfunding, and Rohr said he wants to get Joplin’s fund headed toward solvency to avert more challenging problems.

Rohr proposes setting aside $800,000 in the city’s economic development fund that could be spent on city master plan projects in conjunction with the master developer.

He writes in the budget, “I believe Joplin has the best opportunity it will ever have to positively transform the city to create significant opportunities for growth, based on our contractural agreement and the implementation of the proposed plans by Wallace Bajjali.” He says the $800,000 is intended “to enable us the financial flexibility to respond to those needs once they are identified.”

PAVING AND PEOPLE

The city’s street paving overlay program was suspended after the tornado because of the wear and tear on streets with debris removal. Rohr said the new budget proposes to double up on that expense at $4.8 million in order to do two areas of the city instead of one, to get caught up. The city also will resume it’s Neighborhood Improvement Program that was suspended as a result of the tornado.

After several years of lean budgets with few increases in hiring, the proposed budget would create 18 new positions, some of them seasonal.

If the plan is approved, the city will hire a senior clerk in human resources, a senior accountant in the finance department, an assistant at municipal court, two more transit drivers for MAPS, and an equipment operator and laborer for public works. Nine of the positions are within the Parks and Recreation Department, and several specific in the parks and stormwater sales tax. Those positions include a park caretaker and three seasonal laborers for park maintenance. Another laborer would be added for park work, and five seasonal lifeguards will be hired for the new Schifferdecker pool because the pool will be larger and require more supervision.

The city also will have about $330,000 to implement a new pay plan the City Council approved.

SOURCES OF MONEY

Revenue is projected to be nearly $110.5 million. The city expects to have fund balances to carry over at the end of the fiscal year on Oct. 31 of more than $108 million.

Rohr and Jones predict a decline in sales tax revenue by 5.9 percent based on experiences in other areas of disaster and indicators in the retail sector. That would put proceeds from the city’s 1-cent tax for the general fund at $12 million. The tax last year generated $12.3 million. So far this year, with two more months of collections left, it has generated $10.6 million.

The City Council will hold special meetings Sept. 19-21 to review the spending proposals and hear requests such as funding for the Joplin Museum Complex before being asked to take final action on the budget.

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