Update: More budget cuts to come for Columbia

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COLUMBIA - The city of Columbia is expecting to cut around $1,000,000 from the city's 2018 budget, city manager Mike Matthes said following his state of the city address Wednesday.

According to Matthes, the budget, which is in the draft stage, is not looking good.

"We had to cut a million dollars out of the budget on the current draft. And so that'll be about the figure we seeing July, is my hope. I hope there's no more bad news," Matthes said. "But when you look at the numbers and project forward, it'll get worse and worse as each year goes." 

Last year, the city's budget was reduced by 3% in order to address the strain put on the community by increased internet shopping. According to Matthes, that strain has increased on a community that has become "heavily dependent on the retail economy."

"Now, even those will be vanishing at an increase rate. We've already seen Macy's close, MC Sports is gone, even stores in our beloved downtown have failed," Matthes said. "All of the indicators I watch point to a very dark year for traditional retail and a bright year for online retail."

Matthes added in his address that the city could expect further economic strain as a result of the continuing drop in enrollment at the University of Missouri, in addition to the UM system's job reductions.

"Over the last two years, Mizzou is down nearly 2,400 students. This means 2,400 fewer shoppers, over 2,400 fewer renters." 

In effort to address these growing challenges, Matthes marked property tax as a potential lifeline.

"Until the federal and state governments end the massive subsidy of online retailers, we must recognize that the only action within our power to address our shrinking revenue, is to move away from the use of sales tax as a funding source," Matthes said. "We should look to property tax for future ballots for public safety and roads."

In the meantime, Matthes said the budget for the year ahead will implement some actions made by the city last year to address the budget.

"We have made the difficult choices to reduce our spending to match the revenue we receive. Last year, we made the decision to postpone replacing any of the General Fund fleet and we implemented a delay in hiring of 45 days for General Fund departments other than Police and Fire," he said.

During his address, Matthes also touched upon community topics of concern that have seen improvement. African American unemployment in Columbia is now 11.9%, as compared to the 15.5% it was in when the city implemented it's strategic plan in 2016.

"We still have work to do, but we're gaining on our goal," Matthes said. "I highlight this first because we have come to understand that jobs are are social equity. Because more African Americans are working, poverty in this demographic is going down."

In addition, African American high school graduation rates are reported to have seen a 13% increase since 2011. 

Community policing was also major topic of discussion during the address. According to Matthes, crime in the city's three strategic neighborhoods has decreased by 30%, with leading to 846 less calls to 911 in the neighborhood.

Matthes attributed this decrease in crime to the six Columbia police officers working the community policing program.

Last week the Columbia Police Department came under scrunity, after a vehicle stop report for the state was released by the Missouri attorney general's office, highlighting a racial disparity between stops for black and white drivers in Columbia and other Missouri cities. 

The Columbia Police Department refused to comment on the report until Wednesday. Shortly after the state of the city response, the department released a statement on the report. 

In response to concerns about the search rate for black drivers in the city, Police Chief Ken Burton cited changes in search policies to require written and signed consent before conducting a search absent reasonable suspicion or probable cause.

"We advise, in writing, the vehicle operator's rights as it relates to consensual searches. While it's a small step, we believe it may have an impact on the search rate in the future," Police Chief Ken Burton said. "We will vigilantly continue to look for additional data we can collect that would give our community a fuller picture of the reason each traffic stop is conducted."

Matthes also commented in the release.

"We understand our community is deeply concerned that the disparity index rose in 2016," Matthes said. The Columbia Police Department, from patrol officers to the chief, desires to work with the community to better understand the root causes of the disparity index increase, and to then work with the community to reduce the disparity index number."