COLUMBIA — The Public Works Department expects an estimated surplus of $400,000 this year, and it wants advice from the public about how to spend it.
The department will hold a series of town hall meetings beginning next Wednesday to give the public a chance to weigh in on what it wants done in terms of street repairs and maintenance.
To date, the city has spent only about $80,000 of the $480,000 budgeted for snow removal this winter. Columbia has received just 6.6 inches of snow this season, according to the National Weather Service. The average is 16.6 inches. By Feb. 28, 2011, the city had seen 45.6 inches of snow.
Jill Stedem, spokeswoman for the Public Works Department, said the town hall meetings would allow the department to get input from residents in order to "maximize street improvements through the whole city, not just in one particular area."
City officials are optimistic the strategy will yield good results.
"I think the public is definitely going to feel good about being consulted," Fifth Ward Councilwoman Helen Anthony said. "So I think that good will can only improve relations between the city and constituents."
Anthony said the surplus is only for this year. She also said that the street department needs a lot more than an extra $400,000 and that the money will be spent quickly.
Stedem said the city's budget for fiscal year 2012 includes $1.7 million for street maintenance, which won't go far. The city has 500 miles of roadway to take care of.
Times and dates for the town hall meetings are:
- Ward 5: 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. March 7 at the Gentry Middle School cafetorium, 4200 Bethel St.
- Ward 3: 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. March 13 at Blue Ridge Elementary School, 3700 Woodland Drive.
- Ward 4: 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. March 21 in Room C of the Activities & Recreation Center, 1701 W. Ash St.
- Ward 6: 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. March 28 in the sanctuary at Unitarian Universalist Church, 2615 Shepard Blvd.
- Ward 1: 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. March 28. The meeting is tentatively scheduled to be held at Ridgeway Elementary School, 107 E. Sexton Road.
To date, no town hall meeting for the Second Ward has been scheduled.
Those who can't attend one of the ward meetings can email their input to the Public Works Department at firstname.lastname@example.org.