Columbia council's budget amendments focus on social services

Fiscal 2010 spending plan up for final approval Monday night
Monday, September 21, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 8:25 p.m. CST, Tuesday, November 17, 2009

COLUMBIA – Members of the Columbia City Council got the message loud and clear: Cutting grants for social services is a bad idea in tough economic times.

That’s why most council members are rejecting the idea of cutting annual social services spending by 5 percent for 2010. Although a cut of 2.5 percent remains likely, the change would pump another $22,593 into social service grants, bringing the total spending to $881,149 for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. By comparison, the city spent $898,743 on social services in fiscal 2009.

City budget impact

The primary impact of the city budget on many Columbians will be higher utility rates. Here's a look at the projected average impact on residential customer's monthly bills.

Sewer: $2.11, or 15 percent increase

Water: $1.73, or 8 percent increase

Electric: $4.86, or 5 percent increase

Total: $8.70

To take a first-hand look at the proposed budget for fiscal 2010, go here.

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The amendment is one of several being proposed for the $403 million budget, which is up for final approval on Monday night. The budget reflects a 3 percent decrease from the $415 million budget for fiscal 2009. The financial crunch is primarily the result of lagging sales tax revenue, and Watkins has said it probably will get worse before it gets better.

The public will have its last chance to speak out on the budget during the council’s regular meeting, which includes several ordinances authorizing changes in utility rates and fees for various services.

At the council’s first budget hearing in August, several speakers decried a proposal to reduce social services spending in the midst of a recession. Many – including representatives of the Voluntary Action Center and the Central Missouri Food Bank – said their agencies had witnessed a sharp increase in demand for services.

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala is on their side. “I would not like to see a 5 percent cut for social services across the board,” he said. “Social service demands are up. It’s precisely the wrong time to do that.”

The city received grant requests totaling $1.04 million from 31 agencies for 48 separate programs, and the Boone County Community Services Advisory Commission recommended funding for 43. The commission advises both the council and the Boone County Commission on how to divvy up social services grants each year.

The council has $100,000 from its reserve fund to address problems it sees with the budget. Skala wants to use some of that for social services but also to find money elsewhere in the budget proposed by City Manager Bill Watkins.

“I’m looking for an equitable way to fund these programs... I want to see a contribution from the city manager’s side of the equation,” Skala said.

Most council members also are pushing to restore full funding for the Career Awareness Related Experience, or CARE, program, which helps at-risk teenagers find summer employment so they can build skills and resumes. Watkin's budget had proposed scaling back, but council members appear disinclined to do so.

CARE also would get a boost from Boone County Family Resources, which has proposed providing $40,407 in fiscal 2010 to allow 10 teenagers with disabilities to participate in the program. Although the money would come from Family Resources, it would require an amendment to the budget on Monday night.

Also on the social services front, the council will consider a resolution authorizing Watkins to enter a contract allowing the city to receive $405,358 over two years through the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program, which is administered through the Missouri Department of Social Services using federal stimulus money.

The program includes services such as rent assistance, utility assistance and case management to help people avoid homelessness. If approved, a future council bill would create individual agreements with Central Missouri Community Action, Lutheran Family and Children’s Services and Phoenix Programs

Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade said he feels “very positive” about restoring the CARE money and about the program to prevent homelessness. The latter, he said, “enables us to provide some service that I think we needed.”

For many Columbia residents, the primary impact of the budget would be increases in utility rates. The city estimates the average residential customer will see an increase of $8.70 in monthly utility bills.

Fees for Parks and Recreation Department programs and for services provided by the Columbia/Boone County Department of Health and Human Services also are included in the budget, along with increases in fees charged by the Planning and Development Department for filing various development plans.

The council will hold separate public hearings on each of the ordinances increasing utility rates and fees, as well as a hearing on the Special Business District budget for fiscal 2010 and on the overall city budget. Its meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the council chambers on the fourth floor of the Daniel Boone City Building, 701 E. Broadway.

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