Minutes after announcing a surplus from last year, Columbia City Council approved a burst of spending Tuesday a total of $842,000 on community groups and special projects.
A unanimous council adopted Mayor Steve Benjamins list of about two dozen requests from a range of organizations seeking anywhere from $5,000 to $176,000 for projects as dissimilar as security cameras in neighborhoods around Five Points to more money for the Urban League and the merchants group in the Vista.
No one on council raised an objection to Benjamins proposal, which included new requests from community organizations or those that did not get what they wanted from citizens committees that examine the requests and make funding recommendations to City Council.
The 7-0 vote followed a report by the citys chief financial officer, Bill Ellis. He told council that a $2.5 million surplus in the general fund during the fiscal year that ended June 30 is offset by $2 million council already had earmarked to be spent this year.
I understand there are different ways to measure this, Ellis said during a work session in Eau Claire. By my yardstick, we finished a half-million in the black.
We dont like your yardstick, Benjamin said to chuckles from council. We say its 2.5 million in the black.
Ellis, smiling, answered: I knew that would be your calculation, Mr. Mayor.
Benjamin said the money council spent Tuesday is for one-time use. The sums the groups received will not necessarily be repeated next year.
The vote means the city will draw $343,500 from its general fund to give public money to the Community Relations Council, the Historic Columbia Foundation, the Urban League, the Alston Wilkes Society, Capital Senior Center, Sistercare and three other groups.
In addition, the city will use $464,500 more out of its projected $9.3 million in hospitality tax revenue to promote 16 events or groups that attract visitors. The events range from a public art project to sporting events and programs that focus on Latinos, African-Americans and AIDS prevention.
Some groups set to receive whats commonly called H-tax money were worried they might have to cancel or scale back festivals. Council was six to seven weeks late approving the citys H-tax committees recommendations.
The single largest sum, $176,000 for Historic Columbia, is to promote next years anniversary of the passage of Civil Rights Act and to develop the citys black history that could attract tourists.
The next largest allocation was $100,000 for a housing trust program through the United Way of the Midlands. The money would come from income produced through home loans the city makes to borrowers who otherwise would not meet bank loan standards.
Hospitality taxes are raised on prepared food sold in restaurants, grocery store delis, from food carts, in bars and at festivals. The tax is 2 pennies on the dollar and by state law must be spent to attract tourists.
Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.