Nobody likes taxes. We all believe we pay too much in sales tax, property tax, income tax, payroll tax, gas tax and the myriad other fees we pay to the nameless, faceless bureaucracy.
Having said that, we, the residents of Joplin, need to pass Proposition B on Nov. 5, which will raise our sales tax by a half-cent for up to 12 years.
Why? First, we owe it to our brave police and fire employees to fund the pension we promised them.
Second, we need to put our city’s uniformed employees in a pension plan that is better for them and one that the city can afford.
And third, continuing down the current path will cost the city more than $1 million a year more while not closing the underfunded portion of the pension plan.
The current police and firefighters pension plan is approximately $25 million underfunded. The city has to pay close to $3 million a year into the plan, which is similar to making the minimum payment on a credit card bill.
At this rate, we’re not making progress. For at least the past 10 years, the plan has fluctuated between 56-63% funded, depending upon what the stock market does. The fact is clear — we will have to pay the unfunded pension amounts at some point, and the amount grows every year that we don’t act.
We can argue that city leaders who implemented the current plan should have known better or that times have changed. While those have some truth, it doesn’t change the fact that the bill is still there, and we owe it.
One of the best parts of Proposition B is that it moves our uniformed employees to the Missouri Local Government Employee Retirement System pension plan.
LAGERS covers almost 31,000 government employees and is fully funded. By joining a larger pool, it will also lower the city’s pension payments by 45% (from 30% to 16% of payroll). We can use the difference to help with retention, new equipment and other needs. Better yet, the employees want the LAGERS plan.
We all remember hearing every week how many uniformed employees had left the city for better opportunities in other cities and how many unfilled positions there were in the police and fire departments.
Joplin had a huge problem. But how we handle challenges defines who we are.
We have a lot to be proud of. Once the initial emotions had settled, police officers and firefighters, their respective chiefs, city administration, the Joplin City Council and resident groups got together, put their issues on the table and found a solution.
Nobody got all they wanted, but they respectfully worked through many competing issues to get what was needed.
When I read about how other cities continue to have similar issues, it gives me pride in our city.
My rough calculation is that the half-cent increase in the sales tax will cost each family about $10 per month.
I will gladly pay that to keep our police and fire departments among the best and to fund the amount we already owe them.
When I call 911, I want the comfort of knowing that my call will be responded to by a fully staffed fire or police department and that the officer or firefighter who responds will be highly trained and experienced.
Tom Franz is a CPA who lives in Joplin and serves on the city’s Citizen Finance Committee.