Columbia City Council holds public hearing for 2019 budget

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COLUMBIA - City council members gave the public its first chance Monday night to comment on the budget for fiscal year 2019. 

Columbia City Council held a public hearing a little more than a month before city council is scheduled to pass the budget on September 24. The anticipated 2019 budget is expected be more than $453 million. The funding, however, is expected to come in under that at around $431 million. That is a shortfall of more than $22 million. 

The shortfall of money is causing some Columbia residents to get frustrated with one even calling for an audit of the city. 

"There is one thing that bothers particularly, and it is that the city council hasn't had an audit in a while," said Nina Hampton. "There was a motion to have an outside audit but they said it was too expensive. I believe with my particular confidence in the budget, an outside audit is imperative."

The city is planning on using the rest of the 2017 budget to fund the upcoming 2019 projects. 

Another topic of conversation at the meeting was public safety, which includes police, fire and municipal courts.

The proposed budget for those departments is expected to be down about 9.1 percent, or $4.5 million less than last year, according to a budget in brief by the city council. Facing the biggest cut is public safety capital projects and the fire department. 

According to the proposed budget, the public safety capital projects will take a cut of nearly $5 million dollars due to lower funding required. However, plans for a new fire station in East Columbia are still on the proposed 2019 budget. 

However, city council stressed that public safety is of importance. Two dollars out of every three dollars in the general fund goes towards the Public Safety Department. The rest of the money is spilt up amongst the 16 remaining city departments. 

Dan Andrews, an employee of Sewer Utilities, disapproves of the budget as he thinks it is not fair to all departments.

"Fair to one, fair to all," said Andrews in a speech at the public hearing.

The police department is the only department within the Public Safety Departments with an increased budget. The estimated budget is an approximate $0.4 million increase from the previous budget to cover increased wages as well as a temporary positions being converted into permanent positions. The police department is expected to have a new fire station in North Columbia. 

City council is expected to pass the budget on September 24.