Groups call on Columbia leaders to enact financial audit

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COLUMBIA - City council approved resolution R35-18 Monday evening, partially due to the fact that influential groups believe city officials are mishandling taxpayer dollars.

Ahead of the March 5 city council meeting, the Columbia Board of Realtors, the Columbia Police Officers Association and the Columbia Professional Firefighters all sent memos to city hall explaining the need for an independent performance audit. 

Jim Meyer, the immediate past-president of the Columbia Board of Realtors said the need for such an audit highlights the distrust voters have in their elected officials.

"Really that just also points out the issue of the overall lack of trust that the city has right now with the citizens, just on fiscal issues in general," Meyer said. "We don't think the city has a lot of credibility and we think that's a deeper problem that needs to be addressed."

At the city council meeting Monday, Mayor Brian Treece expressed his approval for the audit, saying it could restore trust.

"We need an independent look at the city's expenses. This audit could be a great opportunity to improve public confidence in us as a financially-sound organization."

Meyer said he believes the audit can only have two possible outcomes. "One, that it actually shows some mismanagement, some waste, some areas where efficiencies can be gained within city government. Another outcome could be that the audit gives the city a clean bill health."

Meyer said that either outcome would help reaffirm credibility that could lead to better policies moving forward. 

"It's not just an issue about the property tax itself," Meyer said. "We generally oppose property taxes because we don't believe it spreads the burden of the cost widely enough." 

Meyer argued that many people in Columbia enjoy public services that do not live within city limits. "Many of these people are in town for the day because they work here or shop here. We think it would be more effective to spread the burden of those services on a wider tax base."

Council will now have to discuss who will perform the audit. Council members expressed the need for it to be run independently, from an outsider's perspective. Council will also specify which aspects of city government it wishes to examine further. This discussion will determine how much the audit will cost.