City budget in 2013 calls for new initiatives, fee changes

Tuesday, July 24, 2012 | 8:43 p.m. CDT; updated 4:44 p.m. CDT, Thursday, August 23, 2012
City Manager Mike Matthes unveiled a proposed $409.5 million budget for fiscal year 2013 on Tuesday morning. The budget represents an 8.7 percent decrease from fiscal year 2012. Matthes proposed general fund spending of $122.3 million, down 12.6 percent from this year. The general fund covers the cost of day-to-day operations of city government. A breakdown of budgeted revenue and spending by category is shown below. The budget is subject to City Council approval.

This story has been modified to correct the amount of money the city spends on workers' compensation payments to refuse workers each month.

COLUMBIA — The $409.5 million city budget for fiscal year 2013 unveiled by City Manager Mike Matthes on Tuesday would cut deficit spending by another $1 million and keep the city on pace for a balanced budget in fiscal year 2014.

Matthes discussed the budget plan during a news conference on Tuesday morning. He outlined a number of fee increases — and decreases — proposed for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 and announced "exciting" new initiatives included in the budget.

Take a look at the budget

City Manager Mike Matthes' proposed budget for fiscal 2013 — along with a video of his news conference and a PowerPoint outline of the spending plan — is available on the city of Columbia's web site.

"The big story of the budget, really, is living within our means," Matthes said.

Budget basics

When Matthes became city manager, he made a commitment to close the gap between revenue and expenses by fiscal year 2014. The 2011 fiscal budget had a $2.9 million deficit; that was reduced to $2.3 million in the budget adopted for this year.

The plan Matthes proposed cuts total spending by 8.7 percent and general fund spending, which covers day-to-day operations, by 12.6 percent. General fund revenue is forecast at $78.2 million, while spending, with recommended reductions, would drop to $79.5 million.

Matthes said in his budget message that every city department has cut its spending by 2 percent. The budget also projects a 2 percent increase in sales tax revenue but calls for no increase in sales tax or property tax rates.

Impact on residents

Utility bills: Residential customers' monthly utility bills are expected to rise by an average of $5.82, or nearly $70 per year. That includes the following increases:

  • Water: A 5 percent increase approved by voters in August 2008. Average cost: $1.41 per month.
  • Electric:  A 1.5 percent increase to offset the increased cost of purchasing power. Average cost: $1.25 per month.
  • Sewer: A 15 percent increase, including an 8 percent increase approved by voters and a 7 percent increase to cover increased operating costs. Average cost: $3.16 per month.

Utility fees: Matthes also is proposing higher fees for utility service transfers, electric connections and disconnections, water taps and utility security deposits. He is recommending lower fees for water meters.

Other fee changes: The proposed budget includes a $5 increase in garage parking permit fees to offset the cost of an additional worker to maintain and clean garages. Matthes also is recommending higher fees for rental inspections and building permits. He said it's time the city began recouping more of the actual costs of inspection services and noted that building permit fees have not risen since 1996.

"I don't know of anything I buy that hasn't gone up since 1996," Matthes said.

The budget also includes changes to many health services and parks and recreation fees. Some will rise; some will fall in an effort to increase use.

New initiatives

Matthes said he is excited about several new initiatives included in the city budget. They include:

FastCAT transit route: Matthes calls for spending $150,000 to establish the new downtown bus route, which will feature more frequent and much later service — the routes will run some nights until 2:30 a.m. — as well as a smartphone app that will allow customers to determine where the buses are and when they will arrive at stops.

"This route is the embodiment of a new entrepreneurial approach to city service, to transit in specific," Matthes said.

Contact center: The city will spend $301,123 in the coming year to launch a contact center intended to provide residents a central place to go when they have questions about city services. "It becomes a one-stop shop for whatever you need from city government, and their job is to know the answer to the question you have," Matthes said, adding that the effort will take time to fully establish.

Certified Tourism Ambassador Center: The Convention and Visitors Bureau plans to create a partnership with the hospitality industry to create classes that will teach residents about the history of Columbia and the city's attractions. Matthes said it's important to make visitors feel welcome here.

"We like visitors," Matthes said, noting that the city relies heavily on sales tax to pay for everything from parks to police and fire protection. "They pay for half of everything we get. And helping them enjoy their time here and come back is critically important to all of us."

The program would cost $35,000 in fiscal year 2013, according to the city Finance Department.

Compressed natural gas: City government owns 353 vehicles that could be converted to compressed natural gas fuel. Matthes estimated the annual savings if all those vehicles were converted at $1.1 million. His 2013 budget, however, proposes starting with the transit and solid waste fleets. That would involve replacing six buses and four paratransit vehicles and buying 10 new garbage trucks.

Trash roll carts: "Roll carts have been received with adulation by some and intense criticism by others," Matthes said. Although his budget includes the money necessary to convert to a roll-cart system for trash collection citywide, the plan is to start with a pilot project that would allow 100 households per ward to sign up for the service and see how they like it.

Under the program, residents would put their trash in carts provided by the city and wheel them to the curb. New trash trucks would automatically lift and empty the carts, eliminating the need for workers to do so. Matthes said the method is safer and, in the long run, cheaper. He noted that the city spends $6,000 to $7,000 per month on workers compensation payments to refuse workers.

Arts foundation: Matthes has proposed a new Columbia Arts Foundation to solicit private donations that could help insulate the city's Office of Cultural Affairs from the impact of ongoing budget challenges. He would seed the foundation with a $10,000 donation of city money.

REDI job training: Mike Brooks, executive director of Regional Economic Development, Inc., got credit from Matthes for proposing a program that would train unemployed Columbia residents for Web-development and help-desk jobs. A survey of Columbia businesses indicated those jobs are difficult to fill. The training program, which would be a cooperative venture with Central Missouri Community Action and the Columbia Area Career Center, would cost $32,500 in its first year.

"We have 4,700 people in town who would love to have a job and don't have one," Matthes said.

City workforce

The city manager's proposal included several changes in pay and benefits for city employees. They include:

Raises: Most city workers would receive an increase of 27 cents per hour, or $561.60 per year. Firefighters would get a 19.3-cent-per-hour raise. "The reason we can do this is because we solved the pension problem," Matthes said.

Pensions: The biggest change in benefits will be the recently approved pension plan, which is projected to save the city $50 million over the next 20 years. It will apply only to employees hired after Oct. 1.

Health care: There are a number of changes to health care premiums for employees signed up for various plans. Most notable is the elimination of premium subsidies for retired city workers. That, Matthes said, will save the city $431,000 per year.

City university: Although the idea is still being developed and is not yet part of the budget, Matthes said the city is embarking on a program that would train city workers to take over supervisory jobs. City officials have noted in recent years that a high percentage of its senior workers will be eligible for retirement soon.

Other highlights

Airport: Matthes said in his budget message that he is confident the city will double air service at Columbia Regional Airport "in the near future." With that in mind, the city is continuing to work with the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, MU and Jefferson City to create a revenue guarantee fund of $3 million that would help offset any losses incurred by airlines that take a risk by establishing service here.

Matthes said he also has budgeted $50,000 for a detailed design for a new terminal building.

Roads: The city in fiscal year 2012 threw an additional $585,000 into its street maintenance budget, which helped it repave a total of 8.5 miles of roads. "At this rate," Matthes wrote in his budget message, "it will take 57 years to resurface every road in the city."

Matthes plans in fiscal year 2013 to buy new paving equipment that will allow the city to do more of its own work then to increase the road maintenance budget by $200,000 in each of the following three years.

Police: The budget includes a total of $195,979 for police training, an increase of about $75,000. It also includes $98,931 to hire a full-time legal adviser for the department.

What's next

The budget is subject to the approval of the Columbia City Council, which will hold a series of public hearings during its regular meetings on Aug. 20, Sept. 4 and Sept. 17. It also will hold a public work session on the budget on Aug. 18.

Missourian reporter Jaime Henry-White contributed to this report.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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