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City of Columbia working to rebalance budget

Due to an unexpected zero-growth in sales tax revenue, Columbia city officials have introduced a 30-day hiring freeze for its employees to help adjust the city’s budget.

Tony St. Romaine, Deputy City Manager, said the city usually sees it’s highest sales tax revenue during the months of December and January. He said the city budgets for between 8-10 percent growth during those months, which then averages out to about 3 percent growth for the rest of the budget here.

But he said this past December and January, there was basically no growth in sales tax revenue.

“So if revenues are not coming in as expected, the only way to balance the budget for the year is to control expenses.”

St. Romaine said the city decided to freeze extra purchase items that were already outlined in the general fund departments’ budgets.

In mid-February city officials also instituted a 30-day hiring freeze. St. Romaine said this would save the city 1/12th of the employee’s salary for the rest of the year.

“When you have 1500 employees and 10 percent turnover, anything that we can do to reduce 1/12 of savings in those new hires really contributes to the bottom line,” said Mayor-elect Brian Treece.

Treece said he’s already asked the city council to exempt the police and fire departments from the hiring freeze.

“It’s hard enough to recruit and retain police and firefighters,” he said. “Just because the economy is declining doesn’t mean that crime is declining.”

St. Romaine said he doesn’t believe the hiring freeze will have a negative impact on the public safety departments. He said their hiring processes usually take more than 30 days.

However, other city departments could have to make pick up the extra work load.

“We’ll be asking the departments to make sure the work still continues to get done by assigning extra work to folks if needed,” said St. Romaine.

This isn’t the first time the city has introduced a hiring freeze. St. Romaine said during the recession a few years ago, hiring freezes were a normal routine to keep a balanced budget.

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