City manager proposes property tax increases for public safety, street maintenance
COLUMBIA – City Manager Mike Matthes proposed two property tax increases for city improvements in the 2018 budget.
Community Relations Director Steven Sapp said, “We know from our citizen survey that there’s two things our citizens want us to improve. Number one is public safety, and we’re working on a plan for that, and number two is streets and sidewalks."
Sapp said both public safety and streets and sidewalks need funding help.
City: 'First need is public safety funding'
“The first need is public safety funding,” Sapp said. “So that will take precedence over everything else.”
Public safety is funded mostly through the general fund, which is sales tax, property tax, grants and PILOT [payment in lieu of taxes] money.
“About seven out of 10 dollars from the general fund currently goes to fund police and fire operations,” Sapp said.
Sapp said the citizens of Columbia have expressed a need for additional police officers and the support teams like records clerks and additional vehicles that come with those additional officers. They have also asked for a community policing module throughout the entire city.
Second request: Upgrades for streets and sidewalks
Street and sidewalk maintenance, public transit and the Columbia Regional Airport receive a portion of the city’s one half-cent dedicated sales tax. The city also gets grants from areas like MoDOT for road projects.
“There’s revenue streams coming in, but they don’t add up to all the needs we see in a growing city,” Sapp said.
According to Sapp, Matthes said there is “certainly a need” to create a new revenue stream for streets and sidewalks.
Right now, the city can repave all of the roads the city is responsible for maintaining every 50 to 55 years, but in the meantime, the city does maintenance work. Sapp said the city should be able to repave at a much faster pace.
The first thing the city manager and finance director look at is the possibility of funds being moved around to satisfy that need for more street, sidewalk and public safety funding.
“Those funds are very limited right now,” Sapp said.
Dollar amount for potential increase not yet determined
Sapp said it is important to look at increasing the property tax but being sure to not take anything away from the schools or libraries -- the main users of the property tax.
The city has not yet discussed how much the property tax increase would be. However, Sapp stressed that there would be two different asked increases, one for public safety and one for streets and sidewalks. One tax could be approved without the other.
“We have to prioritize what we’re going to ask for. Public safety certainly is the priority,” Sapp said.
The city has to figure out the amount of added personnel, what projects need to be done and how many per year would be done to present to voters to show them where the money is going.
The city wants to see advancements with public safety within the next year, according to Sapp.
“How it will play out is certainly a public policy decision that elected officials and the citizens will need to weigh in on at some point,” Sapp said.
Columbia resident Shane Ward said, “I think it’s necessary to ensure the roads remain in good condition and, more importantly, the city is a safe place for residents to live.” He said the increase is one good way to make that happen.
However, Ward said the increase “shouldn’t be large enough to put a strain on the working class, but needs to have an impact.” He said he is hoping the city will seek a middle ground.
Spring or summer of 2018 is the earliest the city could potentially get the proposed increases on a ballot.
Another potential tax measure on the ballot in November 2017
Ahead of those potential increases, in November, voters will be able to vote on a proposed use tax.
The city does not collect sales tax on online purchases, which is about a $1 million loss per year, according to Sapp.
The city could potentially collect a 2 percent tax on online purchases, along with the county collecting 1.75 percent.
“It’s a lot of money, but it is not enough to fulfill a lot of the needs that our citizens have identified,” Sapp said. “It’s one of the pieces of the puzzle."
Public engagement is an important part of this proposal process. Sapp said he encourages people to learn more about the city budget and reach out to city officials or attend city council meetings to voice opinions.
To learn more about how the city’s budget works, click here.