Columbia has more than $450 million worth of capital projects it could undertake within the next 10 years if it can just find the money to do them all, and city leaders want the public’s help in determining what their priorities should be.
A list of capital projects outlined in a 486-page document released by City Manager Bill Watkins on Tuesday includes nearly $212 million in improvements that are on the city’s wish list for the next one to two fiscal years in addition to work it’s doing now.
“Right now, the city of Columbia has almost $146 million in open construction projects,” Watkins said, “but it pales beside the value of infrastructure needs identified in the city’s capital improvement program document.”
Funding all the projects identified in the capital improvement plan for the next 10 years will require sales tax and bond issues. Watkins said at his news conference that bond issues for water and sewer projects are likely to appear on a ballot in 2008.
Bond issues for those utilities typically are placed on the ballot every five years; voters in 2003 approved bond issues of $18.5 million and $28.3 million, respectively, for sewer and water projects. Those bonds are being repaid by rate increases on city utility bills.
Watkins’ news conference Tuesday not only provided a list of the city’s needs but also allowed him to solicit the public’s help in setting priorities. The city in years past has waited until its budgeting process in the late summer and early fall to conduct a series of three public hearings on the overall budget, Second Ward Councilman Chris Janku said. Capital projects are only a small part of the city’s annual spending plans.
“Our capital improvement planning process has always been open,” Watkins said, “but when projects finally come before the council for hearing and decisions, many citizens feel surprised. I don’t blame them.”
This time around, Watkins wants to get the public involved early. He outlined a timetable Tuesday that will include reviews by the Planning and Zoning Commission, a public council work session and a public hearing in June. All those steps will inform the city staff’s decisions as it creates a budget to submit to the council in August.
Janku said this is the first time the city has sought public input so far ahead of the budget process.
Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade said he plans to ensure his constituents are aware of projects on the list so they get their input to him and he can accurately represent their wishes.
Watkins encouraged people to review the planning document.
“You’ll find all of the city’s current and proposed projects listed in the plan, along with estimated costs for the next 10 years,” Watkins said. “You can locate the projects in your ward. Look in particular at the projects proposed for the next one to two years. These are most likely to be considered during our fiscal year.”