By Debby Woodin
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Replacement of the two Joplin fire stations that were destroyed by the 2011 tornado will cost $1 million more than insurance and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay, according to city budget discussions held Wednesday.
Construction of those stations are one small part of $192 million in expenditures proposed by City Manager Mark Rohr for the city’s 2013 fiscal year, which begins Nov. 1. The City Council heard presentations by department heads on their parts of the budget, a departure from Rohr and Finance Director Leslie Jones outlining the major points and answering questions.
“It’s a huge number that we’re dealing with and it takes a lot of input and hard work,” Mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean said of the budget after the meeting. “The department heads and city manager are doing the best job for the citizens they can, and they take it very serious, as does the council.”
Rohr, in his cover letter, suggests using a surplus in the public safety sales tax to cover the $1 million in additional spending needed to rebuild the stations. The half-cent tax approved by voters is designated for staffing, equipping and training the city’s police and fire departments. Construction of a sixth fire station at 5302 W. 32nd St. paid for with money from that tax fund was completed last year.
After a study by Fire Chief Mitch Randles, the council agreed to move the locations of the replacement stations to spread out the coverage area of the stations. Randles said the city’s fire stations had been concentrated in north and central Joplin but there would be a need for more coverage to the south because of growth.
That resulted in a council decision to move Station No. 2 from 2216 S. Maiden Lane to the northeast corner of 13th Street and Schifferdecker Avenue. Station No. 4, formerly at 2010 E. 15th St., will be located at 3402 S. Hearnes Blvd.
On Wednesday, council members asked how much insurance and FEMA is paying for the reconstruction of the two fire stations. Jones said the city is receiving $1,867,000 from those two sources. Randles had said earlier he expected building costs for each station to be between $1.1 million and $1.4 million.
Randles was asked Wednesday night why the two stations would cost $1 million more than the reimbursement.
Randles said that is because larger buildings are needed to house all the equipment the fire department uses and for more utility space, such as for a decontamination room, that was not required when the stations were originally built. He also said that construction costs are higher now than they were when the 32nd Street station was built.
Jones told the council that insurance and FEMA will pay only for the size of stations that were destroyed but not for larger quarters.
The budget meeting started with a debate when Councilman Morris Glaze questioned why the city should pay $4,000 for a membership to National League of Cities. He said he did not see a benefit to the city for that money. Glaze has been critical of Colbert-Kean’s travel expenses to attend meetings of the organization.
Colbert-Kean said one of the benefits is a $12 million TIGER grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation that has been awarded to Joplin because she was able to talk to the department secretary while attending a league meeting in Washington, D.C. She said she relayed information from the secretary on how to correctly fill out the grant application to increase the city’s chance of receiving money. The city applied for $23 million for street projects.
Said Glaze of the grant award: “I think a lobbyist was responsible for that.”
Glaze made a motion to strike the membership fee from the budget.
Mayor Pro Team Bill Scearce said the city’s participation in the League goes back at least 25 years.
“I know she is responsible or partly responsible for the TIGER grant,” Scearce said. “I talked to the secretary (of the DOT) and he said we got it partly because she was there.”
Councilman Jack Golden said the League does develop legislation it proposes to Congress that is helpful to cities.
Glaze’s motion failed by a vote of 3-6. Those who voted to end the membership were Glaze, Mike Woolston and Mike Seibert.
Budget discussions continue tonight.
The council will hear requests at 5:45 p.m. today to make budget allocations for the Joplin Museum Complex, the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Joplin Alliance, and employee groups.