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Columbia city departments detail next year’s budget cuts

Several city departments will cut hundreds of thousands of dollars in services starting next fiscal year.

The Columbia City Council is in the midst of approving the FY 2017 budget. The proposed budget would start October 1, and must be voted on by the council at its September 19 meeting. The group will hold a work session this Saturday that’s open to the public, as well as public hearings at its two September meetings.

City Manager Mike Matthes called this budget one of the hardest ones to put together in his time with the city. With historically low sales tax revenue this year, he extended his hiring freeze to the next fiscal year, and mandated departments not replace aging vehicles. He also requested departments make up to three percent cuts to their budgets to help balance the city’s general fund – a collection of tax revenue used for places like police, fire and parks and recreation. Matthes has often cited people’s growing use of the Internet to buy goods, which means less sales tax captured for city services.

The police department logged one of the largest cuts, totaling $408,636. Matthes told the city council Monday that CPD’s was the only one he first rejected, since the first draft got rid of $25,000 maintenance for the downtown security cameras. Because voters approved funding for the cameras, he felt uncomfortable ending the program, and instead put it back in CPD’s budget.

Police spokeswoman Bryana Larimer said their reduction avoided any cuts to personnel, which makes up 80 percent of its budget. Instead, the budget includes money for more police officers, with the possibility of more through Mayor Brian Treece’s plan. The cuts focus on the “Travel/Training” and “Materials” sections.

Some departments reported cuts that may not drastically affect service. Assistant Fire Chief Brad Fraizer told ABC 17 News they will forgo replacing a nearly decade-old vehicle in the Training Division with 144,000 miles, a “cut” of $29,327. Fraizer said he did not believe it would change the level of service the department provided.

Others cut deeper into how departments operate. Parks and Recreation director Mike Griggs said, along with the hiring freeze, they will cut $145,444 in services. Lower fuel costs led to a $32,000 reduction, and lowering seasonal and part-time salaries will cut more than $21,000. Griggs said that equates to 455 hours of patrol time lost from their temporary park ranger position, 1,250 hours lost in maintenance staff cleaning and repairing park equipment and 625 hours of labor time from construction workers.

“This obviously results in less work accomplished,” Griggs told ABC 17 News.

The hiring freeze will only affect Parks & Rec if someone leaves in that time, Griggs said.

“All of our positions are critical and when we’re down an employee, it makes it tough on all of us in trying to cover,” Griggs said. “For example, if our maintenance specialist that handles all of our pool chemistry, pumps and maintenance leaves in the middle of summer, we will have to quit doing other things like general park maintenance or construction in order to fill this role. If it happens in the middle of the winter, then it impacts the ARC and Hickman Pool, but since the winter is the time that we do a lot of behind the scenes improvements and repairs to outdoor aquatic facilities, then those likely wouldn’t happen.”

Health department spokeswoman Andrea Waner said they found more than $85,000 to cut for next year. That includes some maintenance for its buildings, subscriptions to “reference materials” its staff often uses, and some travel and training money. A reduction in fuel for the Animal Control division means less “proactive patrol of the community,” Waner said.

“We are lucky to have savings from energy efficiency projects through the Office of Sustainability that allowed us to navigate away from having to cut programs and services,” Waner told ABC 17 News. “If we were to undergo more budget cuts, we would have to explore cuts to programming, but we feel very fortunate that we have not had to cut services to the public at this point.”

Many other cuts involve eliminating positions altogether. The Law Department will end an assistant city prosecutor spot, for example. The city council will also get rid of $7,000 to their “reserve” funds – a discretionary fund the council uses to spend on projects they agree upon.

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