Proposed Columbia budget recommends parking fee increases, raises for city staff

Friday, July 25, 2014 | 8:21 p.m. CDT; updated 5:38 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 26, 2014

COLUMBIA – In an effort to cut spending on solid waste, City Manager Mike Matthes wants to stop giving out free trash bags.

The proposed change, which would save the city an estimated $300,000 a year, was included in the draft of the 2015 fiscal year budget Matthes released at a news conference Friday morning.

Scheduled public hearings on proposed budget

Monday, Aug. 18: First public hearing during the regular City Council meeting

Tuesday, Sept. 2: Public hearing during the regular City Council meeting

Monday, Sept. 15: Public hearing during the regular City Council meeting

The proposed budget also includes parking violation and parking permit fee increases as well as a 2 percent pay raise for all permanent city employees, which hasn't happened in five years.

In addition to the wage hike, the budget recommends that 420 employees receive a wage increase to the new market minimum for their jobs.

"We went through the recession, and we survived it by not giving raises," Matthes said.

The budget recommends total estimated spending of approximately $430 million, with total estimated revenue of approximately $400 million. The $30-million gap between revenue and expenditures would be made up for by the use of enterprise funds, Matthes said.

The 580-page proposal can be viewed on the city's website.

More city staff

The budget proposes the city add the equivalent of 55.55  jobs, which Matthes said are mostly a result of the city complying with the Affordable Care Act.

Instead of simply paying for health care for some part-time employees, the city should hire the employees full time, which would be in compliance with the health care bill and would improve the staff's service to the public, he said.

Proposed fee increases

Residents might see several fee increases in the 2015 fiscal year, including $5 increases in parking meter fines and the cost of monthly surface lot parking permits. The proposed increase in parking fines would be used to hire one new firefighter, two police officers and an investigative member at the Police Department.

Additionally, city staff recommended changing parking meter enforcement hours. The suggested hours would be between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. instead of the current hours between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Matthes said the suggested changes would be more in line with the times consumers use of the parking the spaces.

Proposed ballot initiatives

A proposed property tax increase for funding the hiring of additional police officers and firefighters is among five proposed ballot issues voters could consider over the next year.

The proposed five-year property tax increase would add 30 police positions and 15  firefighting positions. Adding additional police and fire staff through the increase is the most important November 2014 ballot issue, Matthes said.

Matthes said property taxes in Columbia are "one of the lowest in the state," and the best option for addressing police and fire-staffing shortages. The city is bringing in 15 percent less sales tax per capita than it was years ago, and asking for sales tax increases would be "head-in-the-sand thinking," he said. Matthes said an increase in online shopping was to blame for falling sales-tax revenue. 

In addition to increasing property taxes, proposed ballot initiatives include:

  • Renewing the Capital Improvement sales tax: The tax, which expires December 2015, would be used to add police precincts and update fire equipment and stations. Matthes said the tax now funds road and sidewalk maintenance.

  • Storm water utility improvements: "Right now, the funding is so low we can only deal with infrastructure failures," Matthes said. He said he would like the city to become more proactive and fund improvements with an April 2015 ballot measure, which would address a backlog of approximately 64 projects with a cost of more than $30 million.
  • Electric utility improvements: Matthes said the city has to pay for electric improvements over the next five years somehow, and the best way to do so is with a ballot issue in April 2015. These capital projects include a transmission-line project in the southern part of the city that will address both existing and future demand.
  • Development fee increases: Matthes said a proposed development fee on new construction would provide a "tiered approach" to balancing the cost of new development and infrastructure use.

The public will have its first opportunity to weigh in on the proposed budget during the public hearing portion of the Aug. 18 City Council meeting, Matthes said. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at the Daniel Boone City Building.

The council plans to discuss the budget at its Aug. 23 work session.

Supervising editor is Samuel Hardiman.

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