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FY24 budget issues expected to dominate Monday council meeting

The Columbia City Council voted to keep taxi stands on local streets.
The Columbia City Council voted to keep taxi stands on local streets.

The Columbia City Council will hold the second of three public hearings for the fiscal year 2024 budget during its regular meeting Monday night at the City Building.

Members of the public will be able to comment on any topic related to the proposed fiscal year 2024 budget.

City staff has presented several proposed adjustments to the budget, including an additional $1.5 million expense for staffing Fire Station 10, which is expected to start operating during the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

According to a budget amendment sheet on the council’s agenda, the funding accounts for six firefighters, three fire engineers, three fire captains as well as their personal equipment and gear.

The amendment sheet also includes some changes in revenue estimates. For example, staff now anticipates 2% more in sales tax revenue next fiscal year, adding about $1.2 million to city coffers beyond the original estimate. Staff proposes directing the additional funds toward the city’s general fund, public improvement fund and other areas.

During the budget process, boards and commissions present to the council on agenda proposals and requests. In a letter to the council, the Public Transit Advisory Commission expressed concern about potential reevaluation of the city’s free fare system. The letter asks the council to “evaluate additional funding during this budget process to prevent the need for fares over at least the entire course of the fiscal year.”

The letter argues that fare revenue would be insufficient in proportion to overhead costs and potential decline in ridership. Instead, the commission asks that the city fund transit with appropriations from the transportation sales tax. According to the letter, “currently only $14.9 million is appropriated of the $17.2 million in total Transportation Sales Tax revenue.”

The city’s transit system has been forced to consolidate bus routes this year and continues to struggle in attempts to attract applicants for bus driver positions.

The council will vote to finalize the budget for fiscal year 2024 at its Sept. 18 meeting.

Property tax rates are also on the agenda for a vote, with staff recommending that the rate remain the same as this year. If the proposed rate is approved, property owners will continue to pay $0.4032 per $100 of assessed value. According to a staff memo, property taxes make up about 8.7% of the city’s general fund.

Power cost adjustment

The council is expected to approve an ordinance establishing a power cost adjustment meant to balance electricity bills based on the cost of fuel. Council approved the concept earlier this summer and the ordinance establishes the formula that will set the adjustment.

Beginning Oct. 1, the city would begin applying a power cost sharing formula to all electric bills with the goal of flattening rates for customers and the utility. According to a memo from city staff, customers would receive a credit when fuel costs are low. When fuel costs rise, customers would “be charged an amount equal to the PCA multiplied by the total monthly (kilowatt hour) usage.”

The memo states that charging more when energy costs rise will “avoid large increases to base rates in the future.” The memo notes that when fuel costs rise beyond the rates provided by the cost adjustment, “overages must be paid using cash reserves.”

Utility customers also may see lower bills in times of cheaper energy costs under the adjustment.

According to the memo, the electric utility will update the power cost adjustment “on a monthly basis using a combination of actual and forecasted revenues and expenses.”

District designations and landmark purchase

The council could allow banners on city light poles marking the Stockyard District north of downtown. Businesses in the proposed Stockyard District include Walt’s Bikeshop and Ozark Mountain Biscuit & Bar.

According to a memo from city staff, Diggs Meat Packing LLC — the organization behind the banner project — will be responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the banners. The memo states that the city could take them down at any time.

The city could acquire a landmark for Black history in Columbia if the council approves an ordinance authorizing the purchase of the McKinney Building for about $1.5 million. The building included a dance hall in the early 20th century that hosted church events, school dances and musical events for the Black community.

Hope Davis is a graduate student at the University of Missouri. She is an Assistant city editor for city and county government at the Columbia Missourian and leads a multi-platform team focusing on the unhoused community of Columbia.
The Columbia Missourian is a community news organization managed by professional editors and staffed by Missouri School of Journalism students who do the reporting, design, copy editing, information graphics, photography and multimedia.
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