After previously tackling the roads and parks portions of a new tax package, the Columbia City Council turned its attention to public safety.
In a work session Monday, the council discussed the need to build two fire stations in 10 years to keep pace with the city’s growth.
The council is considering a tax package that includes a combination of sales taxes and taxes on new development totaling more than $100 million. The taxes would fund road projects, park projects and public safety projects for the next five to 10 years. The council hopes to introduce the package July 18.
In a memo to the council, City Manager Ray Beck said he was concerned with a proposal to build two fire stations in the next 10 years, citing the $800,000 annual operating cost of each station. He recommended the council promise to build one station and leave the option to build a second.
“If you promise two stations, then you gotta promise to put people in them,” Beck said at the meeting. “We don’t want to be like state prisons.”
Second Ward Councilman Chris Janku and Fourth Ward Councilman Jim Loveless argued strongly to keep both stations in the budget, calling fire services an essential part of what the city provides.
“In ’99, we had the same story; we need two stations, we’ll build one,” Janku said. “Now we’re going down the same road again. We need two, and we’re going to build one.”
“I think we bite it off and we chew it, and if it means we need to come up with 1.6 million a year more because we build that second station, OK, then we do it,” he said, referring to the $800,000 operating cost of each station.
The city plans to conduct a survey of registered voters during the second week of July that could cost an estimated $7,500. The survey will gauge the level of support for sales taxes to support parks and roads projects and will ask voters what projects they would give high priority.
The council should receive the survey results on July 18, the same day they plan to introduce an ordinance setting the tax issues for the November ballot.
In addition to the survey, the council will conduct two public meetings, July 13 and July 14, for public feedback on the proposed taxes.
In addition to the tax issues, Sue Buske, president of Buske Group, a cable consulting company, informed the council about the process to renew its contracts with the city’s cable providers. Contracts with MediaCom and Charter Communications are set to expire in January.