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New budget for Columbia faces first vote, public hearing Tuesday

Columbia City Hall would spend almost $23 million more for most municipal expenses while water and sewer rates would rise 4.2 percent starting July1 if City Council votes Tuesday to adopt a tentative budget.

Council’s meeting is the first opportunity for residents as well as suburban water and sewer customers to speak up about the 2016-2017 budget that takes effect next month. The budget does not include a property tax increase.

For the typical residential customer, the rate increase amounts to $2.26 monthly for in-city customers and $3.80 for those outside of city limits, according to city figures. Columbia has 142,000 customers in the metropolitan area. All but about 42,000 live outside the city. A typical residential customer uses 800 cubic feet of water per month.

The rate increase is the lowest in five year – except for fiscal 2014-2015 when council did not impose any hike. Annual rates rose 5 percent, 8 percent, 8 percentand 9.5 percent in recent years, a consulting firm hired by the city reported in April.

Columbia’s largest accounts – the general fund and the water/sewer fund – add up to $287.2 million in the proposed budget. That’s a $22.7 million increase, or 8.6 percent more than this year’s budget in those accounts, according to city budget figures.

Much of the increase stems from the addition of 17 new positions in the water/sewer department and eight new positions in the general fund, budget director Missy Caughman said. Of the 17 new hires in the water/sewer department, 16 are to meet demands the city faces under court-ordered improvements to its deteriorated sewer system, she said.

The 2016-2017 water/sewer budget also include $2.7 million that council normally had transferred to help provide park rangers and other public safety expenses. That transfer was elimiated for the upcoming year.

Council also is scheduled to vote on four other major spending accounts. Here are the figures and the changes compared to the current fiscal year:

▪  Meal-tax account, $10.8 million, a decrease of about $372,000 because unspent balances often used to bolster spending have been allocated.

▪  Parking fund, $8.2 million, an increase of $947,000.

▪  Stormwater fund, $7.2 million, an increase of $131,000.

▪  Hotel/motel-tax account, $2.1 million, an increase of $34,500.

In another high-dollar decision, council is to cast a first vote to authorize a new $72 million bond that would be repaid from water and sewer revenue and grant permission to refinance two bonds that could save some $9 million in interest payments over 25 years, said chief financial officer Jeff Palen.

A final vote on the budget is set for June 21.

Clif LeBlanc: 803-771-8664

If you go

Columbia residents and suburban water customers have their first and only opportunity to respond proposed rate increases and to comment on the city budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. A public hearing and council’s first vote is set for Tuesday during City Council 6 p.m. meeting.

WHEN: The budget public hearing is not set for a specific time. Council’s meeting starts a 6 p.m. and the hearing is listed deep into the agenda. However, council sometimes reorders its agenda items.

WHERE: Council chambers, third floor of City Hall, 1737 Main St.

WHAT’S NEXT: Council’s second and final vote is set for June 21.

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