Glascock's 2021 budget cuts jobs, shifts policing and solid waste strategies
COLUMBIA —Columbia's financial picture looks grim for 2021.
City Manager John Glascock in a Friday morning news conference outlined his proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. It calls for eliminating 78.5 full-time positions and for significant budget cuts that will challenge general fund departments and the city's utilities. The cuts would have a direct impact on residents' lives.
"Individuals, families, businesses are feeling the effects of COVID-19, which include financial struggles," Glascock said. "Your city government is not immune to these financial struggles and uncertainty."
Glascock's budget includes $621,000 for a mental health collaboration between the Police Department and the Columbia/Boone County Department of Health and Human Services. He also wants to re-establish the Police Department's Community Outreach Unit, staffing it with six officers and a sergeant, and promote community policing downtown by switching the responsibility for parking enforcement from meter attendants to uniformed police officers.
Glascock conceded that parking enforcement downtown "probably won't be as intense."
To drive the mental health collaboration, Glascock is proposing eight additional positions in the Police Department and seven in the health department. He said it remains to be seen exactly how that initiative will work, but it comes in response to calls for shifting some of the responsibility for responding to emergency calls from police to mental health experts.
Glascock anticipates total revenue of $416.7 million in fiscal year 2021 and total spending of $456.9 million. To balance the general fund budget, which covers the day-today operations of 20 city government departments, he proposes drawing $531,892 from reserves.
The spending plan calls for no increases in utility bills, except the possibility of a 3% increase in water rates after calendar year 2020 ends. Still, Glascock warned, each of the utilities is in danger of falling below targeted reserves without rate increases in the near future.
Significant cuts Glasock proposes include:
- $1.4 million from sewer utility operations.
- $1.9 million from solid waste operations.
- $8.6 million from electric operations.
- $1.3 million from water utilities.
Glascock said in his written budget message that he doesn't see the need for a decrease in monthly solid waste bills, given that the city still bears the responsibility for collecting all trash and recycling, no matter how residents dispose of it. To help make up for the elimination of curbside recycling service, he said, the city will add five to 10 recycling drop-off sites in the coming year.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, the city was already seeing a huge decline in sales tax revenue, one of its biggest sources of income. The situation grew far worse when COVID-19 shut down many local businesses. The city expects a 10% decline in sales tax revenue this year, and an additional 1% drop in fiscal 2021.
"I see fiscal year 2021 as a year of uncertainty," Glascock said. "Uncertainty of our revenue in general, our business climate picture, the way we educate and the health of our community overall."
Of the 78.5 jobs eliminated, only 11 are filled. The jobs being cut are from departments across city government, including the utilities; the city manager and clerk's offices; and the Finance, Community Development and Parks and Recreation departments. Glascock said employees who are losing their jobs may be able to transfer to a job in another department.
"This was not an easy decision," Glascock said of the job cuts. "It was one of the hardest I've ever had to make."
The budget also calls for reducing the Career Awareness and Related Education program by 32 trainees, closing Little Mate's Cove at Twin Lakes Recreation Area and reducing funding for the city's Trade A Tree, Tree Power and energy audit programs.
On the bright side, Glascock is proposing the city provide free bus and paratransit service as a pilot project throughout fiscal 2021. This is possible because the city won a $6.5 million grant for transportation services through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
CARES funding also will allow the city to shift $2 million worth of transportation sales tax revenue from the bus service and Columbia Regional Airport to street maintenance, which city residents have said in annual surveys is their No. 1 priority.
"2020 has been a challenging year for our community, our state, our nation and the world," Glascock said. "From the coronavirus pandemic to the civil unrest, this is a year that will change the course of our city's future."