Columbia seeks public input on utilities and potential taxes

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COLUMBIA — The City of Columbia is looking for input from citizens on a variety of topics, from sidewalks to potential tax initiatives. This will serve as a progress report for the city to be able to tell how satisfied residents are with their city's services.

"We'll be able to see, over time, if the work that we're doing is making a difference in those areas and how people see their ability to thrive in Columbia," Civic Relations Officer Toni Messina said.

According to the consultation agreement, a marketing firm will mail surveys to at least 2,400 randomly selected households throughout each of the six wards. People can also provide input online.

Messina said this survey helps identify areas of "low satisfaction and high interest" the city would take a closer look at providing more funding. The annual survey helps the city find out if Columbians are eating properly, feel safe and can afford rent and utilities. For example, if there is a lackluster sentiment towards the streets of a neighborhood, then putting more resources towards that area could lead to higher satisfaction towards other services.

Items towards the end of the survey ask respondents how they would feel about an increase to the city's sales or property tax to raise funds to hire more police officers. KOMU reported in November that the Columbia Police Department asked detectives to fill daily patrol shifts.

"If it looks like those numbers are promising, there could be additional discussion about going forward with a tax proposal at some time," Messina said. "We're a long way away from that kind of decision. This hopefully means we'll get some kind of insight into what people are thinking."

Amanda Archer has been a Columbia resident for 26 years. She said she is happy with living in the city, but there are areas for improvement. She would like to see more lighting near the MKT trails and other parks.

"I love the trails and access to the MKT, but I don't feel safe after dusk," Archer said.

Messina said this survey can allow insight from people who generally wouldn't feel comfortable sharing.

"There are some people who are not shy about contacting their council members or city administration," she said. "But, really there are others who don't communicate on some of those topics. The Citizen Survey is a way to do that in a nonthreatening way and it's confidential. We don't know which individuals are providing what information."