Residents aren\'t waiting for Columbia\'s Citizen Handbook

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COLUMBIA - Residents with questions about where their tax dollars were going had an easier way to find an answer Friday. The Columbia City Council started mailing its annual citizen handbook of 2015 to homes.

The distribution is the first time Columbia mailed the handbook to residential addresses in a decade. In previous years, the city had the handbooks available in its office lobby, website, and other offices.

It was the second year the city included its annual performance report to share the budget and how tax money was spent.

"We're hoping that this is something that people hang on to, and read, and can kind of look back on. And if they have a question about city services, they have that, or about our performance report, they have that as well," Public Communication Specialist Sara Humm said.

Humm said the handbooks function as a way to update Columbia residents on spending.

"Obviously people pay taxes to the city so our main focus is we want people to know where that money is going and why they're funding the things they are funding," she said.

Humm said the handbooks weren't circulated enough in previous years and the city hopes this will spread more information to the residents.

"This year our goal is to reach as many people as possible with the information," Humm said. "So we really want the people to know how the city is spending its money."

Humm pointed out the handbook has a pie chart detailing how the city receives its money and how it spends its money.

"I think that's a very visual way to make sense to people," she said. "Things are not always written in the way people can read them when it comes to ordinances and things like that, so this is really broken down, simple, and easy for people to understand."

Humm said including the performance report in handbooks was City Manager Mike Matthes's call.

"The city manager is a big advocate of making sure that people are aware of what the city is spending their money on because he wants people to know that we're transparent and this is just one way that we get information out to the citizens," she said.

Humm said the cost to print and mail the handbooks cost around $1 per copy and Matthes said in a press release that the handbooks are worth it.

"We're spending a tiny fraction of the budget to communicate where our money comes from and how we spend it," Matthes said. "We feel like giving back $1.00 a year to each resident is a good investment."

Columbia resident, Paula Burger, doesn't agree with the city's decision and feels it is wasting taxpayer's money.

"Well, I think it's good information but it seems like a waste of money to print it all out and send it out to people. Especially if people can get it online if they're interested," Burger said.

Burger said even though the handbooks will only cost $1, she thinks it won't be appreciated.

"I think most people are just going to throw it away. So, it's a waste of postage," Burger said. "If you can go to the City of Columbia's website and get that information if you want it, they why not do it that way?"

Humm responded, "We can't make people read it, but we can make it accessible for them to get the information."

The theme for the 2015 handbook was to showcase Columbia's local art.

"We have a lot of great art here in the city and that's been a big focus," Humm said. "The traffic boxes is just one thing we wanted to highlight because it's something that's different, it's unique, and you don't see that in every city."

Humm said one of her favorite traffic boxes has a painting of a deer in a suit playing a guitar on Ninth and Broadway.

The city said the handbook was expected to arrive by the end of September or early October.