COLUMBIA — Facing the pressure to fix aging infrastructure, Mike Matthes is trying to find solutions — but new taxes isn't one of them.
"I think asking for a big tax increase is dead on arrival," Matthes said.
His first budget proposal as city manager, however, does recommend a modest raise for city workers: 25 cents per hour.
In the budget proposal for fiscal year 2012 released Friday, Matthes recommended a $585,000 increase in funding for street paving and maintenance, as well as another $700,000 over the next four years, all without raising taxes.
Several infrastructure improvements to Stadium Boulevard and Interstate 70 are proposed, at a cost of $7.3 million.
The tax increase was suggested by an infrastructure task force in early July. To improve city streets and sidewalks, the task force identified a $14 million annual shortfall of funding.
Matthes agreed with the need and sees his budget proposal as a starting point.
"It doesn't solve all our problems in one year," he said, "but we've started walking the path to get there."
Reducing bus services
Matthes also proposed service reductions and a fare increase for buses, as well as the eventual development of a self-sustaining bus system in coming years. Such a system would free $1.4 million annually, which could be used toward improving street conditions.
The budget proposed the elimination of evening bus services Thursday through Saturday. Matthes said the city is trying to cut services that have the smallest impact. Only 12,000 of 2 million annual riders used night services, Matthes said.
More cuts, including the elimination of Saturday service, are possible if the city is unable to find additional revenue sources by fiscal year 2013, according to the budget proposal.
"We have to either find more money or cut more next year," said Matthes, who moved from Des Moines, Iowa, this spring to become city manager.
Columbia citizens said in a recent survey that paving streets was their top priority, while expanding public transit ranked eighth of 14 choices, according to the budget proposal.
Bus services would be reduced, but riders would be asked to pay more to reach a "positive cash balance" by the end of fiscal year 2012, the proposal states.
- Fare increases would occur for semester passes, full and half fares, and paratransit.
- The eligibility for half fares would be reduced to that which is federally mandated.
- Saturday service would be reduced by one trip. Miles would be dropped from the 209 black route, 104SE route and the 207 West Gold Route.
Karl Skala, a member of the infrastructure task force, said he's "a little concerned" about the proposed budget.
"He increases the money of infrastructure, which I think is a good thing," Skala said. "He suggested he's going to take some money from transit. That's a bad thing."
Increasing fees for services
Matthes also recommended a modest fee increase for water, recreation, sewer, parking and solid waste services. The average utility increase would be $4.49 per month for residents, according to the proposal.
Although the tax rate would remain flat, the revenue the city is projecting from sales taxes and property taxes is projected to grow by 2 percent. The increase, according to the budget report, reflects economic improvements.
Raising hourly pay
For the first time in two years, a raise is proposed for all city employees. The recommendation to increase pay by 25 cents an hour — $10 week or $520 per year for a 40-hour work week — would cost the city $1 million, with half of that coming from the general fund.
Matthes said in the proposal that the general fund "represents our greatest financial pain." In fiscal year 2012, the general fund is projected to take in $75.4 million and spend $77.7 million — leaving a $2.3 million deficit.
Matthes proposed to close the gap between revenues and expenses by about $600,000.
The proposal intends to eliminate the deficit by fiscal year 2014.