COLUMBIA — With $335,000 in funds available for the council’s discretionary use in 2009, City Council members met with city staff during a work session to discuss priorities for how that money could best be used in the next year. The session was a mini-retreat to set the agenda for budget issues for a second, longer retreat planned for City Council members in June. Among their concerns were allocating enough money for after-school and youth programs like the existing CARE program, providing more staff training, planning for energy efficient buildings and implementing affordable housing plans.
“These are things we can take on and that have an immediate impact,” Mayor Darwin Hindman said.
Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade prompted a brief discussion about making more money available for council community goals than was presented in the city staff’s budget. He suggested taking money from other departments, but avoiding an across-the-board cut, to augment the money council members can use toward these goals.
“During tight budget times, there is a tendency to keep doing what you’ve been doing and not change things,” Wade said. “The worst thing you can do during hard times is not have the ability to make changes,”
Wade proposed making several areas a priority for the next fiscal year. Among them were: modernizing the zoning codes, funding a comprehensive economic development program, providing more area training in city government and emphasizing family-friendly neighborhoods. Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser suggested making youth programs, such as after-school tutoring, a high priority and looking into how public transportation can get students to and from these programs. First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz and Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe agreed that making buildings more environmentally efficient is an area that should be discussed. Sturtz also said he wanted to discuss creating an energy czar to overlook long-range environmental plans, allocating funds toward the Blind Boone home and creating a program to “incubate locally-owned businesses.”
City staff members presented the budget for 2009 general funds, which allocates money to basic government departments like police, fire, and public works. They estimated the sales tax revenues will be below budget and that will affect the general fund.
The budget plan requires that 16 percent of the funds go untouched for emergency situations. Above that number are funds that carry over from budget money that was not spent in the previous year. Three to four million dollars needs to be generated in “carry-forward” funding for the 2009 budget, said City Finance Director Lori Fleming.
“We budget to our balance, we don’t spend money we don’t have for the next year,” Fleming said.
Council members also discussed possible capital improvements for the future. Among the plans, several streets and sidewalk issues were briefly touched upon with the intention of getting into more discussion in a later work session in May.
A public hearing on May 19 will allow residents to learn about a proposal to expand a portion of Scott Boulevard, which would require 300 land easements. Second Ward Councilman Chris Janku questioned the proposal to build a sidewalk on a section of Business Loop 70 W. that runs next to the Candlelight Lodge. He said the residents are in need of a pedestrian crossing at that location to access the bus stop on the opposite side of the street. He also said sidewalks are needed near schools on Fairview Road and Smiley Lane.
The city presented basic information about the cost of certain changes in the budget, such as adding police officers or firefighters. The Capital Improvement Plan at the mini-retreat was not a budget, but a list of needs that the City Council could discuss and agree upon before they need to approve the budget in mid-September. Before that vote, the council will use a series of work sessions over the summer to hash out different options. This session was an early report back to the city staff so they can prepare information about the council’s general priorities for next year’s budget.