Live blog: City budget work session

This is Mary Daly live blogging from the city of Columbia budget work session. This morning, city officials will be discussing the proposed FY 2011 budget. The goal today is to have a list of proposed amendments to City Manager Bill Watkins’ proposed budget. At its next meeting 6 p.m. Monday, the council will hone these amendments. Today’s work session goes from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at City Hall, 701 E. Broadway, in conference rooms 1A and 1B. The meeting is open to the public. Stay with The Watchword for continuing coverage.

8:31 a.m.: City Manager Bill Watkins said transportation and airport issues would begin to dip into the amount of money used for general purposes starting in 2012 unless changes occur. “We’re making progress,” Watkins said. “We identified the problem, but the one that scares me most is the airport.”

8:37 a.m.: Watkins said the next step for the airport would be to add another airline to go to another hub, but that would take start-up money that’s not in the budget. “It’s an area that previous administrations didn’t put any money into,” he said. “It’s one of those things you got to do.”

8:50 a.m.: Councilman Gary Kespohl brought up that he would like to see the City Council’s food budget cut. Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe agreed: “I can bring my own food.” Councilwoman Laura Nauser played devil’s advocate, saying she would be concerned that if something like the food budget were cut, it would never be re-established in the future. Nauser also said it might limit the type of person who could be on City Council. Mayor Bob McDavid: “It’s up to us to cut as much of this budget as we can. Anything that will not affect the service of the city is on the chopping block. I think food is a good place to start.”

9 a.m.: Hoppe wondered whether costs for uniforms in several different departments could be cut. “Add it up, and it’s about $100,000,” she said. Watkins countered, saying most uniforms are necessary for the services the people who wear them provide, such as sewer workers.

9:07 a.m.: McDavid said he would not recommend increasing the Citizens Police Review Board budget. The proposed FY 2011 budget takes it from $4,600 to $23,200. McDavid called the board a “mid-level bureaucracy” and said he didn’t think “we have money to spend on bureaucracy at this point.”

9:11 a.m.: McDavid also said he would recommend retaining the current Planning and Zoning Commission budget, rather than increasing it from $5,053 to the FY 2011 proposed $7,900. Hoppe was concerned that the city is giving the commission several projects, so it might need increased funds.

9:17 a.m.: Hoppe would like to see the parking funds allocated to city departments examined. She proposed giving city employees incentives to walk, bike or take public transportation to work.

9:43 a.m.: Discussion ensues about the $200,000 decrease in street lighting. Watkins said he realizes the city must strike a balance between saving money and safety.

10:07 a.m.: After a short recess, the talk now turns to public safety, beginning with the police department. Police Chief Ken Burton said he would like four to six more traffic officers.

10:20 a.m.: Fire Chief William Markgraf was not able to attend the workshop this morning, but he submitted a letter addressing his concerns. The FY 2011 budget proposes cutting eight vacant firefighter positions. “No fire chief that I know would willingly and knowingly turn down the opportunity for additional personnel. However, no fire chief that I know would accept additional personnel knowing that within a year some of the new hires would have to be laid off,” Markgraf said in his letter. He asked for the fire department to be allowed to fill four existing vacancies.

10:40 a.m.: No wage increases were proposed for city employees in the FY 2011 budget. Watkins said this would allow more stable employee benefits because it is cheaper to contribute to those areas than to increase salary across the board. This proposal was met with little resistance.

10:57 a.m.: Watkins proposed some additional funding to the Office of Neighborhood Services. He said because it is a new office, there were some unanticipated holes that needed to be filled, which is what he looks to do with FY 2011’s budget.

11:04 a.m.: Last year, the Parks and Recreation Department saw cuts to personnel, services and supplies. Watkins said he’s been hearing complaints about the cleanliness and lack of mowing in parks, but the proposed budget does not take that into account.

11:11 a.m.: Watkins said the city is about $2 million short to completely repair its streets, so it must continue filling holes and making minor repairs instead of major overhauls. The city is also working to fix and replace street signs that have been vandalized or stolen, but Watkins said the first priority is to make sure safety signs, such as stop signs, are in working order.

11:39 a.m.: McDavid: “We have a tough job ahead of us here unless there’s a substantial climb in the national economy.”

11:46 a.m.: Before the meeting wrapped up, Watkins asked if anyone wanted to add something about the proposed utility rate increase. No one commented.

The council will continue budget discussions at 6 p.m. Monday, further refining possible amendments. The meeting will be at City Hall in conference rooms 1A and 1B and is open to the public.


5 Responses

  1. Screw the airport fund the dam fire department!

  2. Hello everyone,

    Here’s a link to today’s agenda:

    I hope you are enjoying the coverage.


    Pat Sweet
    Assistant City Editor

  3. Councilman Gary Kespohl brought up that he would like to see the City Council’s food budget cut.

    Ya what is wrong with them bringing in their own food?

  4. Hey guys,

    Did Burton provide a cost estimate for hiring the additional officers?

  5. Hey Pat,
    He doesn’t have the exact number at this meeting today, but he said it would include the cost of equipment and weapon. He said for every two officers, they have one car.

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