COLUMBIA — The city of Columbia plans to spend a total of $362.8 million in fiscal 2008, up 10.6 percent from this year, under the spending plan unveiled by City Manager Bill Watkins at a news conference Tuesday morning.
Although the budget calls for spending nearly $35 million more than this year, lagging sales tax growth has forced administrators to “tighten city government belts,” Watkins said.
The budget as drafted would require the city to spend $6.5 million from its fund balances, leaving fewer reserves for next year’s budget. The city will also try to save money by postponing many equipment purchases.
Watkins said he’s confident that city services will not suffer.
Columbia residents will see no increase in taxes during the fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, but the budget reflects increases in rates for electric, water, sewer and refuse services. The average customer, Watkins said, would see an increase of $10.69 in monthly utility bills.
“These increases cover climbing energy costs and other operating expenses,” Watkins said, “but still result in rates that compare favorably with other communities and our surrounding competition.”
Even though money is tight, Watkins cited a first-things-first philosophy in declaring that the need for certain investments is clear. His proposed budget, he said, reflects a commitment to completing projects approved by voters through recent ballot issues and to providing better salaries for the city’s workforce.
“Because they are city government’s most valuable asset, investing in the men and women who serve citizens every day remains my highest priority,” said Watkins.
City workers can expect an across-the-board increase of 1.5 percent as well as salary boosts for exceptional performance, based on a new system of performance evaluations. Additionally, Watkins plans position upgrades for about 50 employees, a program intended to encourage police and firefighters to postpone retirement, and to provide Medicare coverage for eligible retirees.
Recognizing that Columbia is a fast-growing city, Watkins is recommending the city create 19.35 new jobs to help address concerns from a recent citizen survey. Some of those positions, however, would not be filled until late in the year in an effort to keep new expenses down.
To keep pace with promises made through ballot issues passed in 2003, 2005 and 2006, improvements will continue for streets, sidewalks, parks and utility infrastructure, said Watkins. He also hopes the City Council will send ballot issues for a new sewage treatment plant and for water system upgrades to voters in 2008.
The City Council has final say over the budget and will discuss the plan with department heads during a series of work sessions over the next several weeks. Public hearings on the budget are scheduled for Aug. 20, Sept. 3, and Sept. 17.
“I believe that city government contributes to Columbia’s success when we enhance our ability to plan for the future, stay committed to coordinating city procedures and continually improve communication with citizens,” said Watkins.
Copies of the proposed budget for fiscal 2008 are available at the Columbia Public Library and online at GoColumbiaMo.org.