COLUMBIA — City voters in November could be asked to increase property taxes to hire more police officers and firefighters.
Revenue from the proposed property tax would be used to make inroads into the 50 new police officers Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton wants, as well as additional firefighters.
Mayor Bob McDavid proposed the tax increase at a city council meeting on May 19 after City Manager Mike Matthes, in his annual State of the City address, said the city needed 30 new police officers and 15 new firefighters.
The proposal would increase the city property tax 30 cents over five years through annual 6-cent increases. The total property tax collected by the city currently stands at 41 cents per $100 assessed valuation, according to the Boone County Collector's website.
For homeowners, the property tax would cost an extra $95.82 per year for a home with the median value of $168,100, according to a city staff report. A commercial property valued at $200,000 would be taxed an additional $192 per year.
According to the report, the percentage of total property taxes in Columbia is “much lower than other Missouri cities, college towns, cities of similar size, and even cities with higher sales taxes.”
The five-year increase would bring in about $5.25 million total after the fifth year to hire new police officers and firefighters, Deputy Police Chief Jill Schlude said.
“The Columbia Police Department wants to hire 50 sworn officers needed for effective community policing," Schlude said. It costs about $100,000 to pay for one patrol officer, including hiring, equipment, salary and pension, she said.
“If they go ahead and put this on the ballot and it gets voted in, the council still has to determine how they’re going to take that money and divide it between the fire department and police department,” Schlude said. “If we get $5 million, does it get split fifty-fifty? Does it go toward 40 police officers and 10 firefighters? We don’t know yet.”
Assistant Police Chief John Gordon said his department's hope is for 50 officers.
"The City Council will decide how much money will be allotted to the police and fire departments," he said. "They'll then tell us how many personnel we'll be able put on the street."
According to a city staff report, the police department employs 163 patrol officers. Last year, the police department was able to hire three officers.
According to the report, the Columbia Fire Department wants to hire at least 22 firefighters. Columbia Fire Department Battalion Chief Brad Fraizer said increased staffing for the Station No. 2 at 1212 W. Worley St. is an area of emphasis.
“We’ve been real clear in the past about staffing for Station 2,” Fraizer said. He said the station is fully staffed about 35 percent of the time, and it would take six firefighters and $100,000 to $150,000 per year in additional overtime to staff the station full time.
Council members also discussed a ballot item to increase fees on new property development. The uptick in development, such as upscale student housing, spurred consideration of increasing development fees.
The charge for development stands at 50 cents per square foot of construction. The original ballot language proposed three options for increasing these charges, with Matthes recommending a plan that would set fees of $2 per square foot for residential development, $3 per square foot for low-impact non-residential construction and $4 per square foot for high-impact non-residential construction.
This option was the subject of vigorous debate among the members of council until Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp proposed smaller fees increases: $1 per square foot for residential, $1.50 per square foot for low-impact non-residential and $2 per square foot for high-impact non-residential.
First Ward Councilwoman Ginny Chadwick said the council favored Trapp's compromise. She said the council has to approve the measure before it would go on the November ballot.
Both issues will be before the council when it meets July 21. The deadline to submit ballot issues for November is Aug. 26.
Supervising editor is John Schneller.