Here's what's being discussed as Columbia City Council works toward finalizing 2023 budget

·4 min read
Columbia City Hall
Columbia City Hall

The City of Columbia's 2023 budget process is underway, with considerations that range from funding for new staff positions to planning for a water rate increase.

The Columbia City Council held its first work session Saturday, during which members provided guidance to staff on the direction of subsequent work sessions and hearings ahead of the Sept. 19 meeting that will cement the budget.

The budget process is different this year because budget goals must align with the city's strategic plan as well as its climate action and adaptation plan.

More: Here are five priorities included in Columbia city manager De'Carlon Seewood's proposed 2023 budget

Revenues are projected at $472 million, with $476 million in projected expenses. There are rollover funds and currently open positions that are figured into the anticipated operating expenses of $465 million.

The projected budget includes a monthly $3.19 increase in water rates. This assumes water usage remains the same. Electric, sewer, solid waste and wastewater currently have no increases. Further utility rate discussions, particularly for water, are planned Monday.

First Ward council member Pat Fowler hopes the utility assistance fund, which has a budgeted increase of $100,000, could have further discussion. Fifth Ward council member Matt Pitzer has concerns about the rate increase in relation to water treatment plant upgrades.

A cost of service study was conducted on planning the rate changes for the water utility, said Matthew Lue, Columbia finance director. Less revenue is being seen for operations of the water utility.

Fowler wanted to know if the revenue reductions were due to usage or the city's tiered system for billing. It's a little bit of everything, Lue said.

More: Community welcomes Roy Lovelady to Third Ward seat on Columbia City Council

Because of increased purchasing costs for electricity, a rate change may still happen for that utility, said Dave Sorrell, utilities director. An electric rate change likely could happen in November.

"We would need to do it based on good data," Sorrell said, adding there possibly could be a special meeting of the Water and Light Advisory Board ahead of November to speed up the timeline.

Mayor Barbara Buffaloe wanted to know about local generation of renewable energy to counteract costs. A report still is being drafted, Sorrell said.

City staffing

New decision items on the budget were broken down by the strategic plan priorities of organizational excellence, safe neighborhoods, reliable infrastructure, inclusive community and resilient economy.

The city would like to hire approximately 43 new full-time staff members, an aspect of organizational excellence. Around 29 of those would be paid from the general fund, while 14 would be paid through other funds. The budget work session presentation attached to Saturday's agenda included a further breakdown about which department would have these new positions.

The city seeks to adopt the Missouri Local Government Employees Retirement System Rule of 80, meaning employees can retire once their age plus years of service equals 80.

The city wants to provide full Activity and Recreation Center access for full-time employees. The city previously covered a percentage of the costs.

The city also recently changed its health and vision and dental insurance provider.

Other discussion

Around $1.1 million is budgeted to pay for social service contracts so that agencies can work with Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services.

Contract payments previously were supported by a budget of roughly $860,000.

If the budget had included incremental social service contract increases instead since 2010, what would be the budget today? Fourth Ward council member Nick Foster asked. Budgets for contracts had stagnated after 2010.

Other significant priorities include transportation, which would include a new transportation study. The city could take a hybrid approach with providing workplace transportation based on a presentation from a July 18 council work session.

A decision on trash service capital improvements will happen after the budget process is completed. It will include a budget amendment, said city manager De'Carlon Seewood, answering a question from Fowler. A work session is planned in October, Sorrell said. The truck purchase budget will roll over into the 2023 budget year.

Property taxes are projected to increase by 1% each year through 2027. This is typical, Lue said.

Sales and use tax revenue is expected to jump 17% for fiscal year 2023 compared to fiscal year 2021. Subsequent years are expected to have steadier revenue increases of 1.5%. The jump relates to the use tax implementation after it was approved in April.

All Parks and Recreation operations will be funded by the parks sales tax, rather than the tax and the general fund. All capital improvement projects for Parks and Recreation will be done through the general capital projects fund. This will cut down on inter-fund transfers and allow for better transparency, the city said.

Charles Dunlap covers local government, community stories and other general subjects for the Tribune. You can reach him at cdunlap@columbiatribune.com or @CD_CDT on Twitter. Please consider subscribing to support vital local journalism.

This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: Council begins process toward finalizing 2023 city budget