City Manager John Glascock, during his State of the City address Tuesday morning, said that while many Columbia residents have suffered hardships during the COVID-19 pandemic, they stood together while weathering the storm and that Columbia is now in position to move forward with recovery.
Glascock shared hopes and goals for Columbia’s future, and he outlined key priorities the city will pursue in the coming months. He said the city is embarking on a year of growth.
“Going into the pandemic, we anticipated the worst, but financially we are in much better position than we expected,” Glascock said during his address from the City Council chambers at the Daniel Boone City Building. “The city’s reserves are above the restricted target and much higher than anticipated.”
Glascock cautioned that the pandemic is not yet over but said the city has been able to lift restrictions because of cooperation among the Columbia/Boone County Department of Health and Human Services, residents and businesses. He thanked Health Director Stephanie Browning for her leadership during the pandemic.
Glascock noted that more than 40% of Boone County residents have been fully vaccinated and that the county leads the state in vaccinations. Those who have not been inoculated can easily get an appointment.
Throughout his address, Glascock highlighted infrastructure plans, public safety, the tourism and hospitality sectors and more.
Revenue picture is bright
Glascock said city sales tax collections so far in fiscal 2021 are 2% higher than the previous year. Property tax revenue also is up, and unemployment remains low at 3%. The city also got a big infusion of money through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
Glascock said the city’s financial picture is sound enough that he will propose an across-the-board wage increase for all city employees in his budget for fiscal 2022, which begins Oct. 1. The city, he said, is committed to funding wage and benefit studies to help ensure city workers are being appropriately compensated.
The Missouri General Assembly this session also passed legislation that would allow the city to ask voters for a tax on internet sales, which Glascock said would boost city revenue and enable small businesses to compete more easily with online vendors. He did not say how soon the City Council might put such a tax on the ballot.
The city does plan to put an extension of the eighth-cent sales tax for parks on the November ballot. Glascock praised the Parks and Recreation Department’s track record of accomplishments with tax money that votes approved in 2015. In the past year alone, he said, the department has developed Magnolia Falls Neighborhood Park, worked on renovations to Worley Street and Again Street parks and renovated the Talbert Thurston Shelter in Kiwanis Park.
The department is working with the Parks and Recreation Commission to develop a list of projects that could be done if voters renew the tax again.
Glascock assured that public safety would continue to be a top priority and said both the Fire and Police departments are expanding their outreach efforts.
The Fire Department is preparing to build a new station at the northwest corner of Scott Boulevard and Route K. The city also has identified a potential site for a new station on the east side of town. Glascock said the two new stations should reduce response times.
Fire captains will also be hired for each fire shift and will help keep the public informed.
Meanwhile, the Police Department is focused on building relationships and addressing disparities, Glascock said. It has hired an equity officer to review policies “to break down barriers and promote unbiased policing.” He said the department is working with MU to develop recommendations to ensure officers are policing fairly. The Molly Thomas Bowden Neighborhood Policing Center, which opened earlier this month on 1204 International Drive in north Columbia, also will help with those endeavors.
“The new precinct is helping officers build relationships in the area they police, which is critical,” he said.
Helping small businesses
Glascock recounted the difficulties many businesses have had during the economic downturn caused by the pandemic over the past year.
“Restaurants and bars have seen a dramatic drop in business during tighter restrictions,” he said. “Many of them have had to make difficult decisions, cutting staff and limiting hours for their employees.”
Glascock said an important goal for the city is to boost support for minority- and women-owned businesses. Regional Economic Development Inc., he said, has an entrepreneurship program that is working with 19 businesses owned by minorities and 26 owned by women.
“If we miss the opportunity to help those small businesses, minority- or women-owned businesses, we feel those impacts for generations to come,” Glascock said.
Tourism and hospitality
The city continues its goal to grow its tourism and hospitality industry. Hotel tax revenue, however, has been down 40% during the pandemic, and it will be a while before those businesses are back in full gear.
Glascock highlighted research that he said shows many people are planning summer travel, which should boost traffic in and out of Columbia Regional Airport.
“As attractions reopen and festivals are planned, we look forward to welcoming visitors back to Columbia and understand how critical their economic impact is to our community,” he said.
The new airport terminal is the largest capital project underway in the city. Crews demolished a hangar earlier this month to make room for the terminal, which should be complete by early next summer.
The CARES Act provided $10.7 million worth of funding from the Federal Aviation Administration for the terminal, which helped the city survive the dip in lodging taxes. There’s still time for that tax revenue to help fund the terminal, though.
Glascock noted that the City Council has set aside $1.8 million for housing, utility and other assistance made necessary by the pandemic and that the city anticipates more federal aid for low-income households.
The Columbia City Council on Wednesday will weigh in on its budget priorities for the coming year during a work session that begins at 9 a.m. at city hall.