McDavid seeks to raise property tax to pay for more police officers and fire fighters

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COLUMBIA - Columbia residents could soon be paying more in property taxes, but the ball is in their court.

The November elections will have an item on the ballot, which will ask if property taxes should be raised to pay for more police officers and firefighters. Bob McDavid, mayor of Columbia, said the increase is essential to provide good service to the community.

"So for a $17 increase in property tax, the city gets 11 public safety officers," McDavid said. "That's the math."

But, not everyone is buying it.

"I find it kind of curious to ask the voters of Columbia to vote on a fundamental service of a municipal government," said former mayor of Columbia, Bob Pugh. "I wouldn't all find it curious to vote on a trail or something that's more, you know, not essential."

McDavid, however, is adamant that there will be clear consequences if the voters reject the property tax increase.

"I can say, with fair certainty, that if this doesn't pass, we will have a smaller police department and a smaller fire department in the out years," he said.

This is something McDavid said is unacceptable for Columbia residents.

"You deserve that expectation to know that if there is a public safety emergency in our neighborhood, that there will be an immediate response," he said. "And, that is not an expectation we can have with our staffing levels right now."

According to the 2012 Census, Columbia had a population of 113,225. The city's website states the CPD has 162 police officers. The Columbia Fire Department has 140 firefighters.

One of the reasons McDavid said the increase is needed is because the sales tax revenue has been on the decline in recent years.

"E-commerce is exploding," he said. "It probably will triple over the next four years, and each book I buy from, rather than Barne's and Noble is a couple of bucks which doesn't come into the city coffers, and so that's a trend that is not going to change."

Pugh said this is not a valid reason to raise the property tax.

"You don't have enough revenue, maybe you have to look on the other side," he said. "Maybe, you're spending too much on other things. That's the problem."

The city budget shows that the city allocated $42,155,992 to public safety for this fiscal year. That amount comes out to be 10% of the whole budget, which is $364,695,913.

Of the money available to public safety for this fiscal year, 77.07% of it goes to personnel services, an increase of .02% from the previous year.

According to the budget, in the 2013 Fiscal Year, the city collected $44,150,547 in sales taxes and $7,228,203 in property taxes.