Lack of holiday spending affects city hiring, public safety

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COLUMBIA - There are currently 58 open jobs with the City of Columbia, and none of them can be filled for at least 30 days.

The city's 30-day hiring delay is a result of a disappointing first fiscal quarter. Columbia's deputy city manager, Tony St. Romaine, said the city expected an increase in sales tax revenue from the holiday season, but there was none.

"Because of this zero growth, we are concerned about meeting our goal to see a three percent increase in sales tax revenue this year," St. Romaine said.

Columbia's Human Resources Director, Margrace Buckler, said there is no hiring "freeze."

"It's a delay," she said. "We are still undergoing normal hiring procedures. These typically take about 26 days any way. If we decide to make someone an offer, we will just hold their start date until this 30 day period is over."

St. Romaine said the lack of sales tax had an even greater impact on the Columbia Police Department and other public safety units.

"Compared to cities of comparable population and size, CPD is short 50 officers," St. Romaine said.

It costs about $100,000 train and equip a new officer, so it would take $5 million to meet the need. St. Romaine said residents already complain about the wait time on response to emergency calls. He said if the city cannot find necessary funds, it is only going to get worse.

"The citizens voted against an increase in property tax, but we need more money to make sure they have the safety resources they need," St. Romaine said.

He said the city plans to present a lower tax proposal in the future.