A State of the City address should be inspirational, enthusiastic and forward-looking.
On May 29, interim City Manager John Glascock gave his first State of the City address, and it was anything but. It lasted just short of 12 minutes and was given to a mostly full house in the Council Chambers.
The presentation was based on the 2018 DirectionFinder citizen survey and what was found, not on the future state of the city.
The survey was conducted in fall 2018, and 941 households responded. Looking at amap of those who did respond, it appears that a number of areas were not widely represented. Parts of the First Ward, especially the lower-income neighborhoods, were not represented in proportion to the citizens living there.
Glascock opened by saying that 70% of the citizens of our fair city were “satisfied with the overall quality of life in the city.”
What he did not tell the audience about the same survey was that it showed “67% of residents were satisfied with local economic conditions and 53% were satisfied with the overall feeling of safety in the city.”
In the survey, citizens identified four areas of concern: public safety services, the condition of city streets, city utility services (water, electric and sewer) and solid waste services.
As I wrote several years ago to then-incoming Mayor Bob McDavid, take care of the streets, garbage and people, and you’ll do fine.
Glascock started off with a problem that has plagued the city for years and will continue to do so for years to come — the below-market salaries for city workers that result in high turnover.
Although the mayor called for the council budget work session to make city employees the top priority, the question is money.
Where would the city find enough revenue to ensure that all salaries reach at least average market compensation?
During the recent municipal elections, Mayor Brian Treece proclaimed that we raised pay for city employees without increasing taxes.
This is all well and good, but it cannot be sustained in the long run. Our unemployment rate sits below 3%, and we have businesses growing in Columbia, but we will still see a revenue shortfall if sales taxes are held to their current level.
A good deal of time in the State of the City address was spent on transparency in the police department and the shoes interim Chief Geoff Jones must fill.
So far, Jones has done a good job for the community and his officers, keeping everyone informed about work in progress and the future of the community policing scheme.
The state of our roads is where we will see another funding shortfall. Glascock indicated that the city budget for road maintenance is more than $2 million “below what is necessary” to maintain our roadways. Though he stated that I-70 is the “lifeline to Columbia,” Glascock seemed to forget about the importance of U.S. 63.
Of course the city must take fiscal responsibility for the tax dollars it does receive. Glascock admitted that the growth of Columbia is “outpacing the revenue we are bringing in.”
The city and state have not yet passed a use tax, and retail sales taxes have been stagnant or declining. That should be a major concern.
With more and more people buying online where sales taxes are not collected, it will be up to retail consumers to foot the majority of the bill.
To become economically stable, a use tax must be passed by the city and state so those who decided to shop online pay their fair share to the operations of Columbia.
What was missing in the State of the City report was how we are going to achieve Columbia’s goals if revenue is not increased.
The city has some reserves, but those should be earmarked for the important stuff, such as the disasters like the tornado and flooding Jefferson City is experiencing.
We cannot count 100% on state and federal governments to pull us out of the doldrums.
What was missing was a vision for the future of Columbia and a way to pay for improvements to attract more businesses, fix the streets and hire police officers and linemen at average market rates.
What was missing was the foresight and enthusiasm needed to guide the city through 2020.