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Columbia City Manager shares plans for violence prevention, housing center in State of the City


Columbia City Manager De'Carlon Seewood delivered his State of the City address Thursday at City Hall, saying the past year has been a "Year of Accomplishments" in Columbia.

He highlighted several city projects and plans from the last several months, including the start of the roll cart trash collection system and the year-round opening of the Ashley Street Center for homeless people with the help of Room at the Inn.

Looking forward, Seewood said he is ramping up work on the Fiscal Year 2025 budget, which he plans to deliver to the Columbia City Council in July.

He said the new budget will feature plans for the proposed Office of Violence Prevention, which would be housed and paid for in the City Manager's Office budget.

On crime, Seewood said he hopes the new Office of Violence Prevention will help marshal the city's resources to curb crime. Four people have been killed in homicides in May, bringing the city's total to nine in 2024.

Seewood said it will take work from all sorts of groups, including law enforcement, mental health specialists and the courts to bring crime down.

"It's not one group alone that's going to solve this," Seewood said. "It has to be a community effort. So it's all of us locking hands in hands in order to get this done."

Seewood also said he hopes to continue the work of the new Housing and Neighborhood Services department led by director Rebecca Thompson. His goal for the department is to create a housing "resource center," which will offer people information on available housing, rentals, downpayment assistance and affordable housing.

"If you're trying to buy a home here and you're trying to figure out exactly where to go, who's where, where to build, you can go on Zillow, you can go on all these different places, but having a place where you can go in and you can sit down with somebody and say, 'Okay, where are some of the resources that can help me get where I can go?" Seewood said.

Director Rebecca Thompson said a resource center is the goal of the department, but it is still in the early stages.

"It's thinking about what we're doing well now as far as providing that resource and where we need to build up within our department to be able to really be that resource center," Thompson said.

Both city leaders said adding more affordable housing is also something the department is working toward.

"Thinking about how we can assist and incentivize the building of affordable housing," Thompson said. "So, it's looking at our budget next year and thinking about ways that the city can be a part of that discussion and process. So, I'm hoping that is something that I can think can be realized in the next year."

Seewood said the new budget will also address issues of pay compression. In the fall, utility workers protested outside of City Hall asking for higher pay, and earlier this month, they gathered outside of City Hall again, claiming less-experienced employees were making more than seasoned workers.

Seewood said the City does have a plan to address the compression and is aiming to put the plan into action in the coming months.

"Our next step is actually to spread people out," Seewood said. "So, we're making sure that our current employees are spread out in a way that they're now more competitive and they're placed in a better range."

In response to this, LiUNA Local 955 representative Andrew Hutchinson said in a statement, "Local 955's negotiations committee is still in negotiations with City management over wage compression and other working conditions. We are looking forward to reaching an agreement in the coming months with the City's management team regarding wage compression and fully integrating water distribution workers into the Local 955 CBA."

The State of the City address is often used for the city manager to unveil their proposed budget for the next fiscal year. The Columbia City Council will then discuss, debate and offer changes to the budget in August and September. The city's 2025 fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, 2024 and ends on Sept. 30 the following year.

The city's adopted $546 million budget in fiscal 2024 offered pay raises for employees across the board and opened the new Housing and Neighborhood Services Department. Seewood also unveiled his plan to keep the Ashley Street shelter open year-round with the help of Room at the Inn during his last address.

City budget documents show steady growth in the city's general fund, bolstered by new collections of sales taxes from online purchases and recreational marijuana. The general fund is the primary funding source for the city's public safety departments, including the police and fire departments.

Article Topic Follows: Columbia City Government

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