For the first time since the 1989 fiscal year, city staff have balanced the city’s general fund, thus ending deficit spending.
After citizens in a 2013 city survey said they wanted city government to balance the budget, plans for the 2014 fiscal year budget will focus on reducing funding in several areas to match city revenue. The move to balance the budget for this fiscal year is the first step to creating surpluses future budgets, according to fiscal year 2014 budget documents.
Creating a balanced budget was difficult due to the costs of city employees, budget officer Laura Peveler said.
“What we’ve had is a really bad storm of things because our expenses, our pension and our health costs have continued to go up and our revenues have not,” Peveler said.
The budget will still accommodate the addition of three police positions. Additionally, the budget will secure additional firefighter positions to be funded through a two-year grant obtained during the last fiscal year. Measures to increase public safety personnel through the new budget follow the creation of an anti-violence task force as part of a crime initiative by Mayor Bob McDavid.
McDavid originally planned to hire more officers by asking voters for a 20 percent increase on the city’s property tax. However, McDavid withdrew his proposal after a lack of support for the idea following a forum hosted by the Columbia Police Officers Association on Aug. 12.
In previous years, the general fund was balanced using appropriated funds, which consisted of money the city used to fund projects. This fiscal year is the last in a three-year plan to eliminate the appropriated funds, although funding from this year will still be set aside to cover an initial increase in pension costs as part of a plan to gradually reduce these costs, according to the amended budget documents. Remaining funds from the last fiscal year will be paid out in one-time installments to various projects.
The new strategy in balancing the general fund represents a change in City Manager Mike Matthes’ philosophy, Peveler said. Matthes is taking steps in the right direction with his plans for the upcoming fiscal year, Peveler said.
“In the past we have always allowed ourselves to use the appropriated funds balance,” Peveler said. “But we don’t want to use it as a reliance, just like your savings account it may never come back.”
One of the projects city council identified to receive funding is Columbia Access Television. The local public access television and media center will get $100,000 paid in installments and must raise $50,000 of its own funding in order to receive an additional $100,000 in matching contributions from the city. The $200,000 will only be distributed in fiscal year 2014, meaning that CAT will have to determine other means of funding in the future to sustain its programs, executive director Jennifer Erickson said.
CAT staff plans to raise revenue through several outlets, including an increase in staff-produced media services to bring in earned revenue, membership fundraising drives, additional course offerings, grants and private fundraising events, Erickson said.
Although the fundraising will require a greater community contribution, Erickson said she is still confident in the future success of the CAT programs.
“We provide such a great service to the entire Columbia community,” Erickson said. “I respect the decision of the City Council to give us a greater responsibility in building a sustainable future for CAT.”