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Columbia City Council approves 2023 budget with water rate increases

COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)

The Columbia City Council approved its fiscal 2023 budget at its meeting Monday night after making some changes to it over the past month.

Monday night was the last opportunity for the public to provide input on the budget before the council's vote. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

At the council's Sept. 6 meeting, several amendments were approved including water rate increases. First Ward Councilwoman Pat Fowler had concerns about the water rate increase at Monday's meeting.

"I don't know what to do with my confusion, I don't know how I can vote on this given that I don't really understand where we are and why we're here," Fowler said.

City staff said if they do not raise the water rates, they would face going negative in the funds in two years.

Under the amendment, base water fees and resident fees would increase by $2. It would increase water rates among lower water users.

Tiers one, two and three would increase by 24 cents in 2023. Commercial one tier rates would increase by 40 cents.

Fowler requested the council reduce resident fees by half to $1, but city staff said they could lose its S&P rating and lose even more money.

Some residents had concerns with the water rate increase, saying it would disproportionately impact some in the community.

"What's minimal to some of us could leave others homeless. I think a lot of people get really discouraged because they don't feel like they are heard," a Columbia resident said during public comment. "People stop coming to city council meetings and they stop coming to talk to you all because they feel like their voices don't matter, so I hope you will reflect on that as you all vote tonight."

Fowler was the only council member to vote against the water rate increase. Due to only one "no" vote, the amendment passed.

The city's fiscal 2023 budget includes funding for administration, parks and recreation, utilities, health and environment, public safety, transportation and supporting activities.

The proposed 2023 budget shows total expected revenues of around $472 million and total estimated expenditures of approximately $506 million. The budget includes more than $48 million in capital improvement projects, making operational expenditures approximately $458 million. General fund revenue is projected at just over $113 million.

The city council approved a 3% raise for all city employees in May. City Manager DeCarlon Seewood says in his 2023 budget remarks that city employees are the most valuable asset and because of vacancies in almost every department, and in order for the city to maintain competitive recruitment, he is proposing another raise in this budget. Seewood is requesting a 4% increase for permanent employees and the opportunity for 1% performance pay.

Seewood says that in fiscal year 2023 sales tax revenue will return to the normal 2% annual increase, but expenditures will remain high, at around 4%, due to inflation.

The budget includes funds to build long-standing investments in social services. This includes funding social services contracts with community-based providers including Room at the Inn, Turning Point, The Food Bank, Salvation Army and the Voluntary Action Center.

Fiscal 2023 will see an influx of grant funding for health and human services. The Columbia/Boone County Health Department has several grants that will roll into the next fiscal year including more than $300,000 for adult immunizations and more than $460,000 for local public health disparities. Grant funding will also go toward reducing health disparities in communities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The budget includes funds for a new fire station on the southwest side of town. Construction of the new station will begin in 2023. The station will be staffed with 12 firefighters.

The budget also includes additional staffing for the Columbia Police Department, including three airport safety officers, one new police sergeant and one crime scene investigator.

Seewood said as they move forward city staff will need to take a serious look at the city's general fund because it has not kept up with the city's growth, and will need to increase in order to expand services.

Article Topic Follows: Columbia City Government
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Leila Mitchell

Leila is a Penn State graduate who started with KMIZ in March 2021. She studied journalism and criminal justice in college.

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