COLUMBIA — Although in recent years City Manager Bill Watkins has referred to Columbia's budget as "tight," he used a new word for fiscal year 2009 - "squeaky."
"If you've bought gas or groceries lately ... if you have a house sitting on the market ... or a development plan that's starting to gather dust, you know what I'm talking about. Every family, every business and every level of government is taking action to get through the coming year. It's now my belief that these challenges will continue through 2010," he said.
Total budget: $397.6 million, up 1 percent from fiscal 2008
Total operating budget: $256.6 million, up 7.1 percent from fiscal 2008
Total revenue: $346 million, down 7.6 percent from fiscal 2008
Major cuts: Elimination of Adaptive Recreation Program at Paquin Tower; closing Lake of the Woods Pool; eliminating positions of recreation supervisor at Paquin Tower and a transportation supervisor, along with an assistant city counselor who plans to retire.
Utility rates: Residential utility customers will see total monthly bills rise by an average of $7.55. This includes a 15 percent increase in sewer rates, a 5.5 percent increase in water rates and a 5 percent increase in electric rates.
Other fee changes: The budget calls for increases in fees for animal control, environmental health services, immunizations, rezoning requests, water and sewer connections, recreation services and parking. It also calls for increases in public transportation fees.
New personnel: The budget calls for adding 24 new personnel, including four police officers for the new street crimes unit, two firefighters, a business ombudsman, a purchasing officer, four Water and Light workers and nearly 12 new employees in the Public Works Department.
Raises and other benefits for workers: Proposed 25-cents per hour across-the-board raise for all city workers, along with merit raises up to 2 percent. The budget also calls for increased health benefits.
Major capital projects: Street work will include the extension of Maguire Boulevard north to Stadium Boulevard, the extension of Mexico Gravel Road to Route PP, the extension of Providence Road to Blue Ridge Road, the reconstruction of Scott Boulevard and right-of-way purchases to accommodate work along Stadium Boulevard. The budget also includes construction of Fire Station No. 9 at Providence and Blue Ridge, development of neighborhood parks in The Cascades, the Grasslands and Lake of the Woods South/Eastport, the construction of a parking garage at Fifth and Walnut streets and the replacement of two paratransit vans and a bus.
Where we go from here:
6 p.m. Aug. 18 — Budget hearing at the regular City Council meeting
Groups that will be considered for comment: Community Services Advisory Commission, Community Development Commission, Cultural Affairs Commission and any other person or group wanting to be heard
7 p.m. Sept. 2 — Budget hearing continues at regularly scheduled City Council meeting
Any other person or organization who has not addressed the council is welcome to be heard at this time.
7 p.m. Sept. 15 — Budget hearing continues at regularly scheduled City Council meeting
Any other person or organization who has not addressed the council is welcome to make final comments on budget items before the meeting is closed and the budget is adopted for fiscal year 2009.
For more information on the budget, go to gocolumbiamo.com.
Watkins presented the annual budget for fiscal 2009 during a news conference Wednesday afternoon. The total proposed budget is $397.6 million, a 1 percent increase from 2008.
Internal maintenance costs, utility costs and the need for more personnel have claimed a significant portion of next year's money pot. The city will add 24 new positions in fiscal 2009, and a few will be cut.
"This is the first year in the three budgets that I have prepared where there have been actual layoffs," Watkins said.
City workers will receive a 25-cents-per-hour raise alongside health benefits and raises of up to 2 percent based on merit.
He cited trends such as declining tax revenue and increasing energy costs as the main contributors to the city's tight fist. Problems in the past played into the budget as well.
The projected growth in sales tax revenue for 2008 was 3 percent, yet at this time the city has determined it to be between 0.75 percent and 0.8 percent. The lower number caused problems in the 2008 budget, said Lori Fleming, the city's finance director.
This is one reason for the conservative 2009 sales tax growth estimate of 1 percent.
"It is much less of a budget problem to have estimated low, than to have estimated high," Fleming said.
The state of the economy also contributed to this estimate.
The average resident's pocketbook will be hit with a $7.55 increase in utility costs. A significant portion of this change has been voter approved, Watkins said.
There will be other changes affecting residents, Watkins said.
Recreation services at Paquin Tower, along with the specialist who manages them, are being cut from the budget. Next summer, the city will not fund swimming at the Lake of the Woods pool. This will save the city about $100,000.
"We must be honest with citizens, we must acknowledge that if city government adds a new service or a new program, some other established service will suffer," Watkins said.
He said he was concerned but not disheartened by the fiscal challenges.
"We are not able to do near the things we want to do or should do this year," he said. "I think we're able to maintain core services at about the same level as last year."
He recommended that the proposed budget allocate $175,000 to the City Council's reserve fund - an increase of $100,000 from last year.
"Council members have the discretion to use this resource for purposes they collectively believe will benefit Columbia's citizens," Watkins said.
Though Watkins termed the budget "extremely difficult," he said he allocated money with the future in mind.
"I truly wish I could say that all these recommendations will provide short-term relief for citizens," Watkins said. "As city manager, however, it's my duty to suggest a balanced set of choices aimed at managing costs and making investments for the long-term, public good."