COLUMBIA — With the city’s budget season in full swing, the sputtering economy is forcing Columbia to look more closely at its finances than it has in years. At the same time, the City Council is making an effort to take more ownership of the budget.
This is a departure from years past, when the council would receive the budget from city staff with little time or financial room to amend it. This year, the council decided to try and become more involved in the budgeting process and formed subcommittees of council members to develop expertise and make recommendations on individual budget areas.
This adds to an already heavy workload for Columbia’s volunteer City Council. But Fourth Ward councilman Jerry Wade said it is an important part of the council’s job — a responsibility that might have been somewhat neglected in years past.
As Columbia continues to grow, so does its services and staff. As is true nationally and at the state level, it is often the legislative body that lags behind the executive in staff resources. Columbia is no different.
Every few years, the idea of a stipend for City Council representatives or an appropriation for more council staff occasionally becomes a topic of debate. Currently, the council relies solely on the city clerk and the many volunteer boards and commissions.
The issue came up recently during the council’s retreat, and a suggestion was made to hire interns from area colleges to help the council keep up on the plethora of issues it must vote on twice monthly. With some council members juggling their representative position as well as a day job, some wonder they can find the time to make informed decisions. And the City Council’s job could only get harder as the city grows and it tries to take a more assertive role in city policy.
Is it time for Columbia to pay for more City Council staff or a stipend for members?