City Manager Outlines Columbia Budget
COLUMBIA - City Manager Bill Watkins released his 2011 proposed budget Wednesday, calling for no tax increase, but substantial utility rate hikes. Watkins expects total overall spending next year to be nearly $80 million less than budgeted for the current fiscal year, a 17 percent decrease. To help cover this, Watkins anticipates an average $8.25 utility increase per month per household.
This would mean a one dollar per month increase in refuse rate, 15 percent increase in sewer rates, 10 percent increase in water rates and a three percent increase in electricity. Those increases would be a little less than the $8.70 average increase last year.
Columbia resident Jeff Barrow said, "My concern would be about people living on fixed incomes. I would hope that there would be some subsidy or some program that would help them absorb this, because it's very difficult for people on fixed incomes to pay even 10 percent more on their utilities."
But Watkins said, "These rates and fees are dedicated solely to the purposes for which they were established. The revenue that's generated pays for the cost of providing service and for capital improvements and debt service authorized by voters through ballot issues."
Watkins also for sees some cuts in the Public Safety Department to cover other costs. Eight vacant firefighter positions would be cut.
Watkins said, "One of the few city departments that sees a positive increase in next year's (fiscal year budget) is the fire department. Unfortunately, those increased costs have not gone to adding more firefighters. Those increased costs have gone to increased pension costs."
The budget would also go ahead with the closure of one of the two engine companies housed at Fire Station #2.
"Remember that we have been operating without this company for many months. That cut was essentially made last year when we opened Station #9," said Watkins. "So, in reality what we're doing is continuing the closure of the decision that was made last year."
All in all, Watkins projects 2011 to be a tight year.
"The State of Missouri's budget office also projects that 2012 and 2013 will be low points with continuing cuts and adjustments," Watkins said.
The city council will hold hearings to discuss these recommendations with the public in the coming weeks.