Back to basics. If we in Columbia learned anything from this month’s devastating floods, it’s the importance of our city focusing on strong, dependable basic services for our citizens. This means smart, deliberate use of city revenues to deal with first things first: responsible budgeting, the safety and well-being of our neighborhoods and wise use of revenue to fix our roads and water system.
The debate over the condition of our water/sewer infrastructure was settled the morning of Oct. 4, as historic rainfall resulted in catastrophic flooding throughout the city. Even a well-maintained system would be challenged by this rain, but our poorly maintained system did not stand a chance. Repairing the city’s sewer system, already facing a $750 million consent order, is now complicated by our damaged water system. Conservatively, hundreds of millions of dollars in additional revenue will be needed to fix the city’s water and sewer systems.
Like many citizens, I am concerned about our city’s lack of responsible fiscal management. Columbia has stretched its financial capacity to the breaking point. The general obligation debt capacity is almost maxed out, which means the city is using risky and more expensive ways to borrow money.
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Costly projects are brought to council with little or no thoughtful discussion or planning as to how they fit into the overall needs of the community. There is no long-range planning to meet the basic obligations the city owes its citizens. Potential growth of the tax base gives way to special deals for out-of-town developers. These long-term debt obligation commitments not only threaten support for basic services, but also support for the arts, cultural organizations and parks.
During my 21 years working for the Municipal Association of South Carolina — 16 as executive director — I helped towns and cities apply best practices to problems confronting them. Five years ago, I was asked to bring this same expertise to assist Columbia with ongoing accounting problems, overseeing a committee of accountants and other financial experts. This is the knowledge I would bring to the City Council — a more managed, thoughtful approach to municipal finances.
Our most important assets are our neighborhoods, constituting our homes, schools, parks and small businesses. They have been neglected in favor of growth concentrated in just a few areas. We must maintain the integrity of our existing neighborhoods by balancing the need for a quiet setting for existing homes against the rapid growth in student housing. Neighborhood parks need upgrading, and a plan developed for programmed activities. Obviously, our neighborhood roads, bridges and dams need special attention, as well as ensuring all neighborhoods are safe for families to live, work and play.
Main Street banners proclaim “One Columbia.” We saw this as neighborhoods came together to help one another begin to repair and renew after the flood. It’s time the Columbia City Council demonstrates that same unifying approach to the decisions ahead. If elected, I will use my professional experience to promote best practices and mutual decision making to make our city stronger.
Contact Mr. Duvall at firstname.lastname@example.org.