The City of Columbia’s fiscal year 2020 budget sailed through the City Council’s Monday night meeting.

After a three-month process, City Manager John Glascock’s $484 million budget passed with unanimous approval. The council voted 6-0 to adopt it. Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas was absent.

The fiscal 2020 budget anticipates $455 million in revenue and focuses on improving employee salary to boost morale. The council passed the budget along with nearly 30 new amendments added Monday night.

One amendment included a grant that allows the Columbia Fire Department to hire three new firefighters. The additions would cost the general fund $63,066 in 2020, Budget Officer Laura Peveler said.

Transit funding, cuts to the Career Awareness Related Experience program and a decline in sales tax revenue drove public comment about the budget during the monthslong process. But no one from the public came to speak about those cuts at Monday’s meeting.

While the council did unanimously approve the budget, Fifth Ward Councilman Matt Pitzer voted against amendments to the city code that raise health department and parks and recreation fees.

Both Pitzer and Mayor Brian Treece also voted against an amendment to the city code that raises planning and zoning department fees.

Bethel and Nifong rezoning

The development possibilities for nearly 16 acres at Nifong Boulevard and Bethel Street became more expansive after the council unanimously approved a request to rezone the land for mixed-neighborhood uses.

No one from the public spoke on that issue at the meeting, but Matthew Kriede, a representative for the developer, did clarify for the council what infrastructure improvements the company would make.

Treece said he was glad to see the site being rezoned under the city’s unified development code, which wasn’t in place when this land was last zoned.

Members of the the Bedford Walk Homeowners Association opposed the rezoning back in February, saying it would allow for some uses they felt were inappropriate for the area. Residents of nearby Gentry Estates, however, said they liked the idea because it would promote the development of retail stores and other commercial uses within walking distance of their homes.

Jeffrey E. Smith Investment Co. owns the property at the southeast corner of the intersection. In addition to the rezoning, the council also approved a development agreement that outlines the responsibilities of the city and Smith’s company for extensive street work in the area.

The Bedford Walk neighbors originally supported the rezoning, believing there would be no changes to the restrictions about what could be built on the site. They withdrew their support when they learned the new zoning would allow some new uses, such as restaurants with drive-throughs, gas stations and vehicle service stations, with conditional use permits.

The new zoning also would allow the development of single-family homes, apartments and small retail spaces.

Jeffery E. Smith Investment Co. owns a variety of properties but specializes in apartments and senior living.

Electric scooters

MU and the city are gearing up for a proposed one-year pilot program for regulating small vehicles and dockless scooters.

The idea was outlined in a city staff report to the council Monday night. The program would begin Jan. 1 and continue for a year. After that, the city and MU would decide whether to continue allowing electric scooters and similar vehicles.

“The end goal is to combine both the city and MU’s separate agreements with independent entities into a single agreement with one entity,” city spokesperson Steven Sapp said in an interview.

The program will focus on vehicles that contain a motor or are moved manually, are available for public rental and use and have “a wheel diameter of no more than 16 inches,” according to the memo.

The city hopes to collect data about how these vehicles affect public transportation, whether and how they help underserved communities, whether they promote healthy communities and whether they promote more efficient use of transportation infrastructure. The end goal is to determine which vehicles will be allowed to remain in Columbia and how the city will regulate them.

MU and the city will solicit proposals from companies that would like to operate in Columbia.

To be eligible, the company must be in good financial and legal standing with both the city and MU. It also must demonstrate how its vehicles would contribute to the city’s goals of increased transportation mobility and accessibility, via the “first-mile, last-mile” initiative and potential scooter lanes.

“After negotiations, we hope to pair with a company that can do both efficiently,” Treece said.

Other council action

The council also unanimously approved a bill allowing the city to purchase 210 and 212 Hickman Ave. for a combined $40,000. The city plans to demolish the vacant houses and replace them with affordable housing down the line.

At the beginning of the meeting,Geoff Jones was sworn in as the Columbia Police Department’s permanent police chief. Jones, who has been serving as interim chief since January, took over after former Police Chief Ken Burton resigned in the wake of criticisms of his work habits.

The council also took a moment to recognize and thank Columbia Fire Chief Randy White. White, who has been with the department since October 1998 and has been fire chief since February 2015, is retiring effective Oct. 4.

“In every sense of the word, he embodies everything we expect of our firefighters and of our leaders,” Treece said.

After telling a few stories highlighting White’s exemplary service, Treece presented him with a resolution of appreciation signed by all seven council members. Deputy Chief Kyle Fansler will serve as acting fire chief after White retires.

The council also voted unanimously to extend until Nov. 1 the city's contract with Columbia Public Schools for school resource officers. The extension allows the city and the district more time to negotiate a new contract. Police Chief Geoff Jones said that verbal negotiations are finished and that the city's legal staff is reviewing a proposed deal.

Missourian reporter Skyler Rossi contributed to this story.

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