The capital city might be borrowing money for the first time in memory to do more to improve storm drainage and relieve flooding.
City Council is trying not to raise the $6.80 monthly storm water fee that homeowners now pay. City is asking staffers how large a bond the city can sell without raising that fee.
But because of demands from residents to improve drainage, a majority on council is pushing staff to find ways to pay for more projects. And more projects means more money.
Columbia’s chief financial officer, Jeff Palen, said he prefers to hire bond specialists to advise city leaders on much money to bond, or borrow, without raising the fee that also is paid by businesses. Council last raised the fee by $2 per month in 2013.
“We don’t know what we can bond at current rates,” Palen told council at a work session Tuesday.
Assistant city manager Missy Gentry said the city generally pays for storm water improvements using cash from the monthly fees that raise $7.1 million annually. But $5.4 million of that money is eaten up with the yearly operating costs of the storm water system.
Currently, the city has the money for $15 million in storm water improvements during this fiscal year, engineering director Dana Higgins said.
If council were to approve borrowing, staff suggests it be in $10 million increments, Gentry said. But the city’s wish list of 32 storm water projects totals $112 million, she said. “I do not think a project of that size will be funded.”
Mayor Steve Benjamin said he’d like to proceed soon with borrowing for storm water improvement once staff prepares a recommended list of projects. Asked if he supports raising the monthly fee, he said, “Not yet.”
Councilmen Moe Baddourah, Sam Davis and Ed McDowell have said they want to find a way to complete more projects. Baddourah asked for staff suggestions on the prospect of increasing public debt to pay for more projects.
When the issue of borrowing for storm water projects first came up at the Sept. 6 meeting, the city’s veteran bond attorney and its financial adviser said they could not recall a storm water bond during the years they have been consultants for the city.
City Council also decided:
▪ To start charging for metered parking in Five Points on Saturdays between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. that previously had been free throughout weekends. Meters will be enforced starting Saturday, Oct. 1.
▪ The developer of the abandoned Capital City Stadium has gotten an eighth extension – the second this year – to close on the property. Bright-Meyers of Atlanta now has until Aug. 1, 2017, to finalize the agreement involving six acres of city-owned property along Assembly Street. The company must pay an additional $25,000 in earnest money to get the extension, which brings the total earnest money to $329,000, Columbia’s planning director said. That lifts the latest purchase price to $1.25 million.