Derek Snyder: I support competitive wages for city workers, but not a property tax increase | opinion

Here we go again.

In this current environment due to demonizing law enforcement, raising minimum wage and skyrocketing inflation, Joplin is finding it difficult to maintain city staffing at a wage that can entice and keep good qualified workers. So Joplin City Council is looking for more money for police and fire protection services.

It was just last November that Joplin voters approved a use tax for online purchases, with the money earmarked to mostly assist police and fire departments facing staffing challenges.

Now, not even six months removed from the start of the use tax, city leaders want to go back to the taxpayer through to increase property taxes.

Some of the council have correctly cited that sales tax revenue can be inconsistent. Property taxes are generally more reliable. But it doesn’t mean additional property taxes are the best method for curing Joplin’s budgetary problems, especially in this economy.

However, before we start hurling comments of poor stewardship by city leaders or how ridiculous it is to raise taxes during 40-year high inflation, we need to remember how we got here and the limitations city officials have to cure the problem.

For a number of years, a large part of society has been on the assault against law enforcement. Our men and women who serve to enforce our laws and protect us have been broadly categorized as racist and every on-duty act is placed under a microscope to be scrutinized by others. In many ways, our police serve at their own peril.

While local sentiment is less hostile, there have been plenty of instances revealing we are not immune from anti-police rhetoric and attacks, including March’s tragic shooting of three brave Joplin officers — two of them murdered.

When you couple this anxiety and frustration with a shrinking pay gap between minimum wage and area pay for law enforcement, it’s a wonder any of these courageous men and women stay on the job.

The voters approved arbitrarily and incrementally raising the minimum wage in 2018 to $12 per hour by January 2023. After a minimum wage hike everybody’s wages either incrementally increase or some workers, like teachers, police, fire, and other public officials see less difference between their hourly compensation and an entry level high school worker at a part-time job.

Wages have also increased due to the long term and widespread pandemic shutdowns that sent workers home to receive government payments to buy shrinking inventories and also created a disincentive for the American worker returning to the job, which many predicted would cause inflation. Many also forecast that raising the minimum wage would not have the desired impact on the few who earn this beginner pay due the higher wage being consumed by higher inflation and it would cause frustration for other workers who might not see the same proportional increase in wages.

Increasing wages increases goods and services. When business cost of production goes up, then the price of the product goes up — hence inflation. Businesses can also borrow money to operate and even run a deficit, at least temporarily.

But higher wages and inflation put a strain on municipalities leaving city leaders with few remedies. Like businesses, cities have expenses. But cities in Missouri are required to have a balanced budget. Cities cannot borrow money for operations. And the only means of raising the price of most city services is by voter-approved tax increases.

Personally, I am not in favor of raising property taxes. For the record, I also opposed raising minimum wage and the shutdowns. Neither of these worked to alleviate the targeted issue.

I do support paying competitive wages to city staff, including police and fire. Higher wages should keep city employees and attract other qualified city workers to Joplin.

But right now in this economic environment of outrageous inflation, any tax increase is ill advised. Unfortunately, that means we will continue to hemorrhage good workers and struggle to keep police and fire fully staffed.

These are difficult days. I don’t envy our local elected leaders who must make untenable choices.

Ultimately, the voters will have to decide on new taxes. Just like it was up us to before, which created this mess.

So here we go again.

Derek Snyder is a Joplin attorney.

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