City Council, departments discuss budget

Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton proposes new way of responding to business alarms
Tuesday, August 25, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 1:45 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The heads of several city departments went before City Manager Bill Watkins and the Columbia City Council  on Monday night for the first of three work sessions to discuss the proposed 2010 city budget.

Watkins has said that the proposed budget would close a $2 million gap between revenue and spending by focusing on reductions in personnel and program spending. The city is also exploring ways of increasing revenue through adjustments to law enforcement fines and man hours.

Two red light cameras recently installed in the city are expected to bring in revenue through an increased number of fines, as are the addition of two traffic units. Police Chief Ken Burton also brought up the possibility of making a change to the department's policy on private security alarms.

Citing a 97 percent rate of false alarms, Burton asserted the department could save man hours if officers didn't automatically respond to each alarm. When questioned by the council about how such a policy would work, Burton suggested business owners would have to verify each alarm themselves before calling police.

The police department could not be reached for further comment Monday.

At the start of Monday's work session, Watkins cited three "potential lightning rods" with regard to changes in funding: cuts in funding for social services, increased user fees for other services and the personnel budget, which proposes leaving several positions vacant and increases the cost of some employee benefits.

Despite an expected 2.9 percent decrease in total city revenues, significant layoffs are not part of the proposed budget. City employees, however, would see a 7 percent increase in premiums for health insurance benefits for their dependents under the proposed budget, as would retired city employees. The 7 percent increase would only cover the expected increase in cost of employee benefits.

The Columbia/Boone County Health and Human Services Department would also raise fees and in some cases, add new ones. Vaccines for children would rise from $10 to $15, tuberculosis tests would be offered at cost plus a $10 administration fee, and visits to the STD clinic, which are currently free, would cost $10. Food inspection fees would also apply to non-profit organizations, schools and day care centers.

The council will convene for two more work sessions at 6 p.m. Wednesday and 6 p.m. Thursday and is expected to approve a finalized budget at its regular meeting Sept. 21.

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Jason Entermyer August 25, 2009 | 8:13 a.m.

As Council looks at programs to cut, I hope they spread the cuts around equally to all departments. Don't target just a few to bear the brunt. I'd hate to see registration fees get so high that users can't afford the programs.

I also suggest that Council consider a new overtime policy similar to what the University of Missouri has recently implemented. The way I understand, overtime is only paid if you're acutally working. Thus, someone who calls in sick on Friday, won't get overtime for having to work Saturday. I think this is the Federal rule.

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