Columbia budget proposal stresses unemployment disparity, policing
COLUMBIA - Columbia City Manager Mike Matthes released his budget proposals for fiscal year 2016 Friday.
They highlight what Matthes said is the city's need for additional police force and decreased energy costs.
Matthes' proposed budget, covering Oct. 1, 2015 to Sept. 30, 2016, includes nearly $442 million in total spending, a 2.7 percent decrease from fiscal year 2015, according to Matthes.
He said the new budget does not impose any new taxes, though it does account for funding from two sales tax initiatives that still need voter approval before generating revenue for the city. Matthes said projects that would be funded by those taxes simply wouldn't be completed if the taxes don't pass.
The budget would split up the city's $2.1 million in savings from 2014 several ways.
First, the funding allocates $500,000 for the Veterans Welcome Home, a house for homeless veterans in Columbia.
It also budgets $200,000 for four new net-zero homes in Columbia. A Columbia family recently moved into Columbia's first net-zero home.
Matthes also said $50,000 would be used to fund the Cradle to Career program, which is aimed at improving a core set of academic criteria.
FOCUS GROUPS RESEARCH:
Matthes budgeted $100,000 to conduct focus group research in multiple areas.
First, Matthes said he wants to assess why the Columbia Police Department's approval ratings lag, despite what he called "rock star" performance.
"They have their lowest satisfaction rating ever in the most recent survey. 59 percent are 'satisfied' or 'very satisfied' with their work," Matthes said, noting that crime in Columbia is at a 30-year low. "So, there's less crime happening in the city than at any point in the 80s, and when it happens, we solve it at a far greater rate than almost any city in America. So why does the community feel less safe and less confident with the police department's work?"
Second, Matthes said he wants to use the focus group research to determine why there is a racial disparity in Columbia's unemployment rate. According to economic data from 2013, the unemployment rate for whites in Columbia was 4.4 percent, while the unemployment rate for blacks was 15.7 percent.
"We prefer a community where everyone can thrive, and this is one indicator that tells me we don't have that yet," Matthes said. He said Columbia would look at cities that have successfully mitigated the issue, like Austin, Texas, to find a solution.
"I don't think it's rocket science," Matthes said.
COLUMBIA REGIONAL AIRPORT IMPROVEMENTS:
Matthes' proposed budget also allots $500,000 for a new terminal at the Columbia Regional Airport. Matthes said the funds won't cover the whole cost of a new terminal but said it was "a start".
Additional funds would be allocated for a runway expansion and taxiway improvements and expansion at the airport. The city estimated those improvements to cost $3.5 million. Matthes' budget would also provide funding to replace an aging emergency response truck meant to assist aircraft at the airport.
Greg Cecil, from the Columbia Regional Airport Adivosry Board, said the terminal cost would likely be in the tens-of-millions, but the board had not been given an official estimate.
Matthes addressed Columbia's jobs numbers during his budget proposal. He said a solution to curbing poverty is creating jobs that support families. Matthes suggested starting a discussion about increasing Columbia's minimum wage. When asked how he would ensure that an increase in the minimum wage doesn't overwhelmingly increase costs for corporations, Matthes said the city could marginally implement a wage increase over time.
Matthes said the funding for the new airport terminal, funding for the Veterans Welcome Home and the $50,000 for Cradle to Career could help support jobs.
NEW POSITIONS IN GOVERNMENT, POLICE AND FIRE:
Matthes said some funding from the proposed budget would go to hire civilians for three positions within the police department that do not require police power, allowing more police work in the field. Those positions are public information specialist, crime scene investigator and police trainer.
$25,000 would also be used to fund an off-duty officer presence at middle schools. Matthes said resource officers would not be at the schools all day, but the program would improve police presence in schools.
Matthes' budget allows for the addition of four firefighters to provide full staffing at Station 2.
Additionally, Matthes said the budget would allow for the creation of two new positions and the removal of one at city hall. The deputy city manager would oversee all utilities, community development, and public works. Matthes said he asked John Glascock to fill that position if the budget passes.
The director of utilities would oversee water, electric, sewer and solid waster services and well as storm water infrastructure and utility billing. Matthes said he asked Tad Johnson to fill the position if the budget passes.
Matthes said Dave Nichols would become director of public works. The position of assistant public works director would be removed.
COLUMBIA'S CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT PROJECT:
Matthes' proposed budget includes funding plans for the city's Capital Improvement Project, which includes road improvements and transportation services.
Matthes said there is a multi-million dollar gap between funding that would be available and costs projected for the project.
Funding for the Capital Improvement Project rides on approval of a 1/4 cent sales tax on the August ballot. If the tax is approved, the city would generate about $63.8 million over ten years. Matthes said that is tens of millions of dollars short of what the city would need to meet its capital improvement goals. Matthes said the additional funding to make up the shortfall would come from county and state sources, and possibly the federal government and MoDOT as well.
Matthes said the project would include improvements to sidewalks and streets. He said it would also fund maintenance projects and building repairs.
REDUCING ENERGY COSTS:
Matthes' proposed budget outlines planned improvements to Columbia's energy consumption.
Matthes said the city could save $35,935 by using compressed natural gas (CNG) in more of its bus fleet. The city used CNG in 6 percent of its busses in fiscal year 2015, and looked to increase that to 9.7 percent in fiscal year 2016.
Additionally, Matthis said the city could become the first Missouri city to use an electric bus in its public transportation system in fiscal year 2016. Matthes said the bus could save the city $75 a day in fuel costs. Matthes said the busses require minimal maintenance compared to other city busses.
Matthes also said the city was considering adding solar panels to city hall in order to further improve the city's energy consumption.
The Columbia City Council planned several opportunities for public input on the budget.
On Monday Aug. 17, the city council was set to hold its first public hearing on the budget, followed by a work session Aug. 22, a hearing on Sep. 8, and a final public hearing Sep. 21.
The city council was set to vote on a budget for fiscal year 2016 after its public hearing Sep. 21. The budget would go into effect at the beginning of fiscal year 2016 on Oct. 1.