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Columbia’s key challenges in 2016 in the aftermath of the flood

A $20 million remodeled Finlay Park is among Columbia’s unfunded, high-dollar projects.
A $20 million remodeled Finlay Park is among Columbia’s unfunded, high-dollar projects. City of Columbia

The theme of Mayor Steve Benjamin’s State of the City address Tuesday will be reinvesting in the Capital City after the flood damage from last fall.

The specifics of the speech were unavailable in advance. But some of Columbia’s biggest challenges in 2016 include how to pay for a mounting list of expensive projects, how to rebuild the weakened Columbia Canal that feeds half of the city’s water system, how to improve a sense of security for residents, and how to get City Council members to work together better.

HIGH-DOLLAR PROJECTS

City Hall has yet to say how it will pay for $750 million in federally mandated improvements to the sewer system, $51 million in commitments to the fledgling Bull Street neighborhood or $21 million to re-establish Finlay Park as the jewel of the city’s park system. Also on the table? Two new parking garages for the crowded Vista.

PUBLIC SAFETY

Since the police department got a $1 million shot in the arm from the city manager to raise pay and keep experienced officers, Chief Skip Holbrook has said he wants a dedicated team for Columbia’s entertainment districts, including the Bull Street development. Benjamin said he will propose hiring more officers.

CANAL REPAIR

The record rains of Oct. 4 left the city’s drinking water compromised for 10 days after the Columbia Canal was breached by the Congaree River. The federal government could pay 75 percent of the $100 million cost to rebuild the 127-year-old canal. But city leaders have their fingers crossed the feds will pick up the full tab.

KUMBAYA

The seven-member council has been divided on policy questions, but often they also don’t get along with each other or with city staff. Council is working to improve trust by listening more and arguing less, getting the city manager to provide the same information to all members and giving one another a heads-up before publicly making major announcements.

If you go

The 2016 State of the City speech by Mayor Steve Benjamin will touch on how, in the aftermath of October’s flood, the Capital City must reinvest in its people, its programs and its infrastructure.

When: 6 p.m. Tuesday

Where: City Council chambers, third floor, City Hall, 1137 Main St.

Reception: In the lobby of City Hall immediately after the speech

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