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Appropriation of cable fees still undecided

Monday, January 7, 2008 | 11:28 p.m. CST; updated 11:09 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA — City Council voted to add an estimated $250,000 that will be generated from increased cable franchise fees to the general budget on Monday night. Appropriation for the funds, however, is up in the air.

Mayor Darwin Hindman has long supported using $100,000 of the appropriated fees to quickly fill vacancies in the Columbia Police Department, as recommended by city staff. Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala supports hiring more police officers but not with the franchise fee funds.

“The shortage of police or necessity to get police is a growth infrastructure problem,” Skala said.

He thinks shifting council discretionary funds and development fees could gain the additional officers instead of using the cable fees.

In September, the council voted in favor of raising the cable franchise fees from 3 to 5 percent, which would allow more funding for the Columbia Access Television channel. The increase is expected to generate $250,000 to $300,000 for fiscal year 2007.

Thad Simmons, a Columbia resident, doubts additional police could solve all of Columbia’s problems, though.

Simmons said the council should not expect that more officers will mean less crime for Columbia, based on his findings at city-data.com.

“Taking $100,000 and expecting the hiring of more officers should not come with expectation of lowering crime index,” he said.

Second Ward Councilman Chris Janku thought the funds should be used for the Career Awareness Related Experience program, which helps at-risk youth find jobs.

Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser said she was uncomfortable with the idea of spending the estimated funds just yet.

“I have a problem with spending money we don’t have,” Nauser said. “It would be a difficult thing to take from money we do have.”

The council plans to use a later resolution to discuss the appropriation of funds from the fees at a future meeting. Last week, City Manager Bill Watkins gave the go-ahead to Chief Randy Boehm to fill the seven vacancies that exist in the Police Department.

Also at the meeting, the council unanimously approved an ordinance calling for an April special election to let the public decide whether the city will issue $77 million of Sewer System Revenue Bonds.

Engineers of Black and Veatch provided council members with an outlined presentation on the needs for the bonds as well as what could happen without them.

On April 8, voters will decide whether the city will issue the bonds to improve the sanitary sewer collection system and wastewater treatment facility and pay for sewer line extensions.

The bonds would be issued over a five-year period and be repaid by sewer-user charges, according to a city memo from Public Works director John Glascock.

The council also approved an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2007 Action Plan to reprogram $150,000 of the previous year’s Community Development Block Grant funding to renovate the Nora Stewart Memorial Nursery School.

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe commended the staff of the nursery for finding the needed funds for the developments.

Renovations for the nursery are already underway with a matching block grant.


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