Supporters of Proposition B don’t see the formation of an oppositional group as their biggest challenge. Instead, it’s convincing voters who tend to resist new taxes that the measure is worth a "yes" vote.
“The only negative thing we’ve heard is that people don’t want new taxes, and we understand,” said Jeremie Humphrey, president of Joplin Professional Firefighters, IAFF Local 59. “But we’ve met with people who say that even though they don’t want a new tax, they will support this.”
Voters on Nov. 5 will decide whether to support the proposition. If passed, it would create a half-cent sales tax that would fund retirement plan changes for Joplin police officers and firefighters.
Supporters kicked off their campaign Wednesday with a ceremony at the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s not often that the chamber meets to endorse a ballot initiative, but we felt strongly about this as a business community,” said Toby Teeter, president of the chamber, during a speech at the kickoff. “This will improve the retention of Joplin police and firefighters, and will lead to safer streets, schools, trails and neighborhoods.”
The chamber also served as a headquarters for canvassing efforts. Working on a volunteer basis, a group of about 20 firefighters, police officers, members of resident advisory boards and other residents visited the homes of registered voters to rally support.
Capt. Adam Grimes, of the Joplin Fire Department, worked in a canvassing team alongside firefighter Gabe McMullen and C.B. Eastman, a member of the Joplin Police Department's Citizen Advisory Council. In a span of about 90 minutes, they talked to people at six residences and recorded 10 messages of support, thanks to multiple voters being in the same residence. They also heard compliments and gratitude for their service, and left door hangers for people who weren't home.
"As of right now, it's been overwhelmingly positive," Grimes said. "People have been appreciative of the services we provide. The guys I work with work hard to have the best fire department we can, and I'm grateful to be a part of it."
The canvassing effort, targeting active voters within the city, will extend over the next two weeks, Humphrey said. Campaign workers will also meet with community groups and send email reminders to voters before the election.
One of the main messages campaign workers hope to share is how passing a sales tax will save money in the long run.
Currently, retirement benefits for police and firefighters are paid out of the Joplin Police and Firemen's Pension fund. That fund has struggled to remain solvent — the Globe reported in September that the fund could pay out only about 64 percent of benefits it will owe over time. The city will pay $3 million to the fund next year, and employees also make contributions to the fund.
The sales tax would effectively help close the current pension fund and transition current and future employees to a Missouri LAGERS retirement fund. Humphrey said that the status quo will be expensive for city taxpayers.
"What this does over 20 years is saves taxpayers about $28 million," Humphrey said. "Because we're paying at a higher rate, we're paying it off quicker."
A stronger retirement fund will help both departments retain experienced staff members, Humphrey said.