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Columbia City Manager highlights falling crime rates, sales tax

The city’s strategic plan has helped reduce poverty and crime, but City Manager Mike Matthes expects a dismal year in their ability to fund some parts of the government.

The city manager’s State of the City Address tackled crime, jobs and his outlook on the economy for the year ahead. Matthes spent much of the 40-minute speech on the progress made in the three neighborhoods targeted in their strategic plan, which sought to improve people’s ability to succeed, particularly in the African-American community.

Only 54 percent of African-Americans told the city they felt they could succeed in Columbia. Matthes also highlighted that while the white unemployment rate hovered around 4 percent, the black unemployment rate sat at 15 percent.

Since 2015, that number has dropped to 11.9 percent, Matthes said. This has come after a concerted effort to hold meetings and connect people with jobs through neighborhood meetings.

Crime rates in those areas have also dropped, according to data the city provided, including aggravated assaults and rapes. Matthes said their work also reduced the number of 911 calls made from the areas. He hoped that drop would send “ripples” throughout the city in reducing crime.

But further investment in the Community Outreach Unit may not come soon. Matthes said the decline in sales tax will most likely continue through 2017, citing national trends. He said city leaders should target a property tax increase for further funding of public safety, despite a favorable response among the public for a sales tax that supports it.

“I think most people understand that sales tax is not going to get us across the finish line,” Matthes said. “We can’t use a funding source that’s going to evaporate.”

The lagging sales tax also means trouble for next fiscal year’s budget. Matthes said his July draft will be balanced, but will be done so easily. The city will continue to not immediately fill positions funded through general revenue, a mix of sales and property taxes that primarily funds the police and fire departments. Both public safety departments are exempt from the freeze, but Matthes said about 900 positions are considered “General Revenue positions” throughout the city.

“We will have to change how we do things if we want to thrive as an organization,” Matthes said.

The city manager suggested the city and county look towards a voter-approved use tax, where large purchases made out-of-state are taxed when they come back for use in Missouri. Matthes also said the city did not have to “labor in darkness” when it came to its declining retail industry.

“We should conduct a study of our retail economy,” Matthes said. “What parts of our economy compete well with the Internet? What products do we as shoppers leave Columbia to go buy? And what could our commercial landlords do with that information?”

Article Topic Follows: News

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