McDavid on city budget: 'Show us some savings'

Proposals include cutting General Fund in half, reinstating firefighters.
Columbia City Manager Bill Watkins reviews proposed budget amendments on a projector during a meeting Monday at Columbia City Hall. The meeting went over cuts in transportation, recreation and city fire and police to prepare for the official budget cut Sept. 20.

The Columbia City Council met Monday to make amendments to the 2011 budget, including cutting the General Fund in half and reinstating four firefighters.

City Manager Bill Watkins walked through the budget in detail, paying close attention to amendments made in the past month.

"The reason we do this is so the public knows what the potentially amended items to the budget are," Watkins said. "I think it would be less than transparent if there's a last public hearing and we brought a whole bunch of amendments that have significant changes."

The council's largest money-saving amendment was to cut the General Fund in half, which will save approximately $125,000. The General Fund supports all of the City's departments, including law enforcement, the fire department and several others.

During the budget process, every department has been asked if they could stand a 50 percent cut to their annual budget. The Council first proposed to reduce the General Fund by almost $240,000, but Watkins maintained it would be difficult to reduce it by even $125,000.

Each department of the city wrote to the council about their compliance with the proposed budget cuts or showed reasons why they would have to maintain a higher spending level. Most departments noted they could somehow find a way to survive on half of what they currently are given.

The budget was also amended to reinstate four firefighters and upgrade a vehicle at Fire Station 2. The only other amendment made to add expenditures to the budget was one to hire two police officers for the Columbia Police Department's traffic unit. Combined, the officers and firefighters will add about $550,000 to the city's expenses.

Council members are feeling the effects of the budget cuts, as they proposed to cut their own food budget down to $3,500. Members proposed they bring their own food and beverages and allocated funds only for two receptions held during the year.

The city focused several cuts on training exercises and continued education for lawyers and other city officials.

"In my opinion, there are a lot of ways that are less expensive than others," Mayor Bob McDavid said. "There are ways to be efficient, and I believe we can ask for that."

Fourth Ward Councilman Daryl Dudley suggested the city stop providing trash bags to the public. Instead, he suggested letting people supply their own trash containers.

"Our trash bags are on the budget for $300,000," Dudley said. "If we stop doing that, that gives us $300,000 more."

The money would not come out of the General Fund, the main concern of the council, but instead from the solid waste fund.

Another idea the council discussed would be to replace trash bags with trash bins, possibly charging a monthly fee for the more convenient waste elimination system.

Most council members agreed the issue was definitely something that should be discussed in the future, and they decided to wait to make any official amendments until a later date.

"I think it's incumbent upon us to reduce expenses in all (ways)," McDavid said. "To each enterprise -- show us some savings."

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