COLUMBIA — By shaving small expenses from various city departments in the proposed budget for fiscal 2009, officials have found enough money for the Columbia City Council to fund its top priorities and to save recreational programs that had been on the chopping block.
Final decisions on the budget await the council's approval. The second of three scheduled public hearings on the budget will be Tuesday night. The council used a series of work sessions to tweak the spending plan, which totals about $397 million.
Columbia city departments have offered a number of suggestions for saving money in the proposed budget for fiscal 2009. To see the entire list, go to gocolumbiamo.com/Council/Bills/2008/sept2bills/B246-08.pdf.
The City Council’s next public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday in the council chambers on the fourth floor of the Daniel Boone City Building, 701 E. Broadway.
The council will present its proposed amendments Tuesday night. Most of the suggested changes are the product of a reallocation plan that is the brainchild of Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade.
At a work session Tuesday, Wade urged the council to identify its top budget priorities, which emerged as planning and infrastructure implementation, environmental stewardship, economic opportunity and development and public safety.
City Manager Bill Watkins, who worked with department heads to produce the original budget proposal, emphasized that work session discussions are not binding. He said it's not unusual for the council to amend the budget.
"I think it is exactly what council has always done," Watkins said. "This has just involved a little different process. So at this point the process is a little different. The dollars are a little bit different. But again, council makes the budget their own. That's critical. That's what we want."
The reallocation has freed up $414,150, but possible uses of that money total $581,000. Over budget by $166,850, the council still has some decisions to make. But members at work sessions have made some of their intentions clear.
First, the council is poised to preserve a scaled-down Adaptive Recreation Program at Paquin Tower and to keep open Lake of the Woods Pool. Ending the Paquin program and closing the pool would have saved the city about $88,000 and $13,000, respectively. The less ambitious Paquin program would cost an estimated $61,000.
The council also is pondering whether to funnel $175,000 into the city bus system in an effort to ease up on a proposed doubling of bus fares.
"There are still levels of fare increases in different combinations that the council is looking at," Watkins said.
To address the priorities it identified, the council is considering whether to allot $125,000 toward growth management and a modernization of the city's zoning codes. Wade called those needs the "single most important thing" on the list for reallocation funds and said they will both require outside expertise.
The idea is to take a close look at form-based zoning, which involves analyzing potential growth areas around the city and targeting them for specific types of development.
In the area of environmental stewardship, the council also is showing interest in teaming up with MU to hire a sustainability director. Although there is no job description yet, or an exact idea of how such a position would fit into city administration, the council is leaning toward allocating $60,000 for the post and discussing the specifics later this year.
The reallocation money would come from the council's reserve fund of $125,000 and from miscellaneous cuts from an already tight budget for fiscal 2009. Every city department was charged with cutting its budget by one-quarter of 1 percent, but not every department made the cuts.
The Finance Department proposed saving $7,700 on printing by putting large documents such as the budget on CD rather than paper. And the Police Department suggested saving $800 by reducing the number of business cards it prints. Parks and Recreation officials said they could save $7,500 by no longer grinding the stumps of trees it cuts down, except for those that pose hazards or obstruct construction. The City Council, city manager, Office of Cultural Affairs and Public Works Department also made cuts.