In five of the 10 Columbia city budgets starting in the 2010 fiscal year, local leaders cut funding for the Columbia/Boone County Department of Health and Human services. The city spent more on public health a decade ago than it does now, with funding for the department dropping from just over $8 million in 2010 to just under $7.8 million in 2020.
The drop in funding is consistent with health departments of similar size across the country, which have seen a 14 percent reduction in per capita spending over the last decade, according to a study by the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO). The overall public health workforce declined by 17 percent over the same period, while the national population increased 8 percent.
The reduced investment in public health has left many local health departments stretched in their response to COVID-19. Many departments have had to pull staff from important tasks such as immunization to help with contact tracing. While the federal government has provided funds for the local health response to the pandemic, many cash-strapped departments are still struggling to access that money.
A national conversation about police funding has highlighted cities' spending priorities. In Columbia, even as the health department saw repeated cuts, funding for the police department has steadily increased over the past decade. The city budgeted more than $26 million for police in 2020, an increase of nearly $6.6 million since 2010.
For 2020, the Public Safety category — which includes the police and fire departments and municipal court — made up 10.7 percent of the city's $488 million budget. Health and Environment, which includes the health department, economic development, the offices of cultural affairs and sustainability, community development, and the convention and tourism, and contributions funds made up 3.8 percent.
The city's fiscal year starts October 1, and the city manager delivers the proposed budget towards the end of July. After a series of public hearings, the council must adopt a budget by the end of September.