State of the City lays out goals, strategies for Columbia, despite tight economy

Wednesday, June 2, 2010 | 5:35 p.m. CDT; updated 11:04 a.m. CDT, Thursday, June 3, 2010

COLUMBIA — The city of Columbia is committed to striving for excellence even in tough economic times, City Manager Bill Watkins said in his annual State of the City address Wednesday.

"In one word, my opinion of the state of the city government is 'stable'," Watkins said. "We're where we expected to be."

The speech is a prelude to the City Council's yearly retreat, where members discuss policy issues and establish plans and budget priorities for the upcoming fiscal year. This year's retreat will take place at the Country Club Hotel in Lake Ozark. It begins at 6:30 p.m. Thursday and ends around midday Saturday.

The meeting is public, and Watkins encouraged residents to attend.

Although Watkins said "budgeting is likely to remain a zero-sum game" for the next few years, he cited "new partnerships, outside funding sources and internal reorganization" as ways to extend the existing city government budget.

Watkins' commitment to excellence will be a challenge given the grim budget forecasts provided to the City Council at last month's miniretreat. Those projections show the city reserve fund will be depleted to less than 5 percent of the annual general fund budget by 2013 unless significant cuts are made. Proposed spending reductions of $1.75 million per year for the next two years and $675,000 in 2013 would allow the general fund to remain more than 16 percent of the budget.

Following his opening statements, Watkins identified several core service areas in which the city is seeking to "attain excellence." He said public safety (police, fire, and joint communications), city utilities, job creation, bus and air service and the park system all will be discussed at length during the upcoming retreat.

Watkins emphasized the importance of attaining "excellence" several times as part of the city's goal to apply for, and receive, the Missouri Quality Award and the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Both awards recognize outstanding leadership and reward exceptional organizational management systems.

Specific initiatives that will come under discussion at the retreat include:

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