Proposed budget unveiled

Wednesday, August 1, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:46 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008
Columbia Public Works employees pour cement to repair a downtown street Tuesday.

COLUMBIA-City Manager Bill Watkins on Tuesday unveiled a proposed budget for fiscal 2008 that calls for spending a total of $362.8 million, up 10.6 percent from this year. Despite the increased spending, Watkins said lagging sales tax growth has forced administrators to “tighten city government belts.” The budget calls for dipping into reserve funds, postponing some equipment purchases and waiting until late in fiscal 2008 to hire some new city employees.

Here’s a look at some of the budget’s more interesting aspects.

The basic breakdown

$362,800,000-Proposed budget for 2008 fiscal year

The city will spend a total of $362.8 million under the plan. That includes a general operations budget of $235.8 million and $59.1 million in major capital improvements that fall outside the regular budget.

What will it cost me?

$10.69-Proposed average utility bill increase per month

The budget includes several scheduled increases in utility rates, including $1.50 per month for refuse collection, 69 cents per month for sewer, $1.59 per month for water and $6.91 per month for electric service.

The budget also includes high fees for reinspections of rental properties. Those would cost $25 under the proposed budget, up from $15. Subsequent reinspections would cost $50.

Several small increases in sports and day camp fees are also proposed. Day camp, for example, would cost $205 for a two-week session, up from $190.

What about city workers?

1.5%-The proposed across-the-board raise for city employees

Watkins said better pay and benefits for city employees are one of his priorities for this budget. He and his staff are proposing across-the-board raises of 1.5 percent or 30 cents per hour, whichever is greater. The budget also includes special 2-percent raises for employees who have displayed “exceptional performance” based on a new review system that should be ready to implement by Oct. 1. In addition, about 50 employees will be in line for position upgrades and 71 will move to salaries that are closer to market level. Finally, about 20 workers could get raises when their jobs are reclassified.

The budget also calls for increased assistance in helping employees cope with the rising cost of health insurance. The city will continue to cover the cost of rising premiums for employees and will pay from 9 cents to 26 cents more per hour to help cover the cost of premiums for dependents.

Will the city hire more people

19-Proposed number of new positions

Yep. The budget proposes the addition of 19 new positions and increased hours for some part-timers. Overall, the additions would have a financial impact of about 13 full-time equivalent jobs, given that some of those hires will be postponed until later in the year. Here’s a breakdown of the new jobs proposed.

  • Public Safety: The budget calls for three new police lieutenants and three firefighters to staff Fire Station No. 9, which will be built during fiscal 2008.
  • Public Works: This department would get seven new workers, including four engineers of various levels who would work on street design, right of way, sidewalk and street projects and traffic engineering. It would also get a new refuse collector and two administrative support assistants for public transportation and the solid waste utility.
  • Parks and Recreation: The budget calls for a new engineering aide.
  • Electric Utility: The city would add a rate analyst and a compliance officer.
  • Information Technology: The budget proposes one programmer for maintenance of the city’s geographic information system.
  • Administration: The budget calls for a new personnel specialist and another assistant city counselor.
  • Health and Environment: The city would increase hours for three part-time workers.

What big projects will the city take on?

In total, almost $37 million is budgeted for capital projects, a 220.3 percent increase from the 2007 budget.

Work on streets and sidewalks, a total of $25.1 million, will account for 68 percent of that total. That represents a nearly fivefold increase from this year. Major street and sidewalk projects include:

  • 23 sidewalk projects supported by $7.3 million from the federal non-motorized transportation pilot project fund.
  • Reconstruction of Brown School Road between Range Line Street and Providence Road. The budget allocates $3.75 million for the project.
  • Reconstruction of Clark Lane between Route PP and St. Charles Road at a cost of $3.24 million.

  • Widening of Highway 763, also known as Range Line Street. The city’s cost for this project will be $2.29 million.
  • Construction of intersection ramps from Vandiver Drive east to Mexico Gravel Road at a cost of $2.9 million.
  • Extension of Providence Road from Vandiver Drive north to Blue Ridge Road at a cost of $2.46 million.
  • The city will also spend about $8 million on various parks and recreation projects, up 206 percent from this year. Much of the money will come from the parks sales tax. The projects include:

    • 14 trail projects funded by $5 million in non-motorized grant funds.
    • Improvements to restrooms at Cosmopolitan Park.
    • Construction of a four-court tennis complex and replacement of restrooms and a shelter at Cosmo-Bethel Park.

    The budget also includes $2.2 million to construct Fire Station 9 at Blue Ridge and Providence roads in north Columbia and $13.4 million for renovation and expansion of public buildings.

    How can I tell the city what I think?

    $14.50-Proposed cost of a kickball game, up from $12.50.

    The City Council will hold one-hour public hearings on the proposed budget at its Aug. 20, Sept. 4 and Sept. 17 meetings. General comment will be accepted at any of those hearings, but the first two will also carry specific focuses. The Aug. 20 hearing will focus on recommendations from the Community Services Advisory Commission and the Community Development Commission, while the Sept. 4 hearing will focus on recommendations from the Convention and Visitors Bureau Advisory Board and the Cultural Affairs Commission.

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