Mayoral candidates discuss disability, budget deficit

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COLUMBIA - Election candidates met Monday for another round of public talks, this time focusing on policies, accessibility and accommodations for those with disabilities.

Mayoral candidates Brian Treece and Chris Kelly participated in the forum, alongside unopposed councilmen Ian Thomas and Karl Skala.

The forum was organized by Boone County's Family Resources department and emceed by Max Lewis, a quadriplegic attorney based in Columbia.

"One of the facts that came out of this [forum] is that one in five people have disabilities" Lewis said. "There are varying degrees of disabilities, especially with individuals with more significant disabilities -- they need extra measures for living."

Attendees saw a more united front by candidates. A majority of the attorney's questions centered around accessibility for those who are disabled.

"The questions revolved around affordable housing, the sidewalks -- and the Birds [scooters] on the sidewalks and also about transportation concerning paratransit."

Lewis said he was happy with the turnout but does wish more people with disabilities were able to attend.

"I wish there was an avenue where more individuals in the community could have heard the questions and the responses." Lewis said.

Mayoral candidate Chris Kelly held a small press conference following the disability forum where he highlighted a half-million dollar shortage in the city's budget.

"According to the numbers provided by the city finance staff and the city manager, the city budget is $538,000 under budget - in deficit - as of the 16th of March," Kelly said.

He attributed the deficit to current city officials, including the mayor.

"The first obligation of a mayor is to be financially responsible with the tax payers money," Kelly said. "An unbalanced budget and a falling credit rating are strong indicators of irresponsible budget management on the part of the mayor."

Kelly was referring to an updated Standard and Poor credit rating that dropped Columbia from a "AA+" score to a "AA" score.

Incumbent Mayor Brian Treece rejected Kelly's assessment, attributing the shortfall to normal budget fluctuations.

"We have a half a billion dollar budget. We're only five and half months into the fiscal year," Treece said. "Our revenue estimates are based on widely held consensus with Missouri department of Revenue -- there may be a little lag right now but that's up to the city manager to manage effectively."

The municipal elections are April 2nd.