Columbia residents might be in for a bit of a surprise when city leaders release next year’s budget. After years of riding high on the hog, this is the first time in decades the city has had to deal with contracting revenues for consecutive years. And there’s no beating around the bush. Some programs will be cut. Some fees will be raised. The question is, which ones?
City Manager Bill Watkins will begin releasing numbers next Thursday when he holds a press conference on the city’s capital improvement plan. The staff has been looking at budget numbers all summer, and the City Council formed subcommittees to develop expertise in different budget areas. By the end of August, the council will hold work sessions to make budget amendments, followed by public hearings in September and then try to pass a final document by the end of September.
Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala and Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade have indicated that the area likely to receive the most scrutiny is Parks and Recreation, especially city-sponsored recreation programs.
Skala estimated the city needs to find ways to save around $1.5 million in next year’s budget and said recreation programs will most likely be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Some of those program fees will have to be raised to reduce the city subsidy, and some programs may need to be dropped altogether, Skala said. Wade has indicated a desire to target fee raises on recreation programs serving the upper and middle classes. But there’s still going to be a lot of pressure on the council by interest groups to keep their favored programs. (Recall the city’s attempt to cut some money from the Paquin Tower program last year and the outcry that ensued.) Better to let the council know early what battles they will have to fight.
What programs should be trimmed in the city’s 2010 budget?