Changing the signs in Columbia

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As Columbia prepares its vision for the city for the next couple of decades, it is beginning with some in-house cleanup. 

Columbia Director of Community Development Scott Dunakey gave an update on the city’s comprehensive plan process, but most of his time at Monday’s Columbia City Council meeting was spent reviewing potential changes to the city’s sign code.

A moratorium was placed on any new signs during the Feb. 7 council meeting to give officials time to clear up discrepancies with current sign regulations in Columbia.

Columbia City Administrator Doug Brimm explained Monday that he and Dunakey found themselves having lengthy conversations as a result of confusing language and “blatant contradictions in the code.”

Dunakey presented a draft version of proposed changes to sign regulations during the meeting.

Columbia Mayor Bob Hill said the new code was “still very confusing to read” in its latest form. 

Dunakey noted the copy  aldermen and Hill received did not contain any graphic elements that are to be included. He also said he could put a straightforward table in the next draft to accomplish the ultimate goal of creating clear and specific guidance for signs in the city.

Brimm thanked Dunakey for his work on the revision, calling it a “step in the right direction.”

Dunakey will now work on a draft to give to officials in time for review before potential adoption at the next city council meeting March 21.

In discussing the city’s comprehensive plan, Dunakey reported the steering committee is almost complete. He also said an open house has been scheduled for in-person conversations about the plan.

This open house will be from 4:30-7 p.m. March 31 at the pavilion of the Main Street Abbey complex, 340 S. Main Street.

One part of city code was officially changed Monday night when the council voted to approve an ordinance amendment to help deter would-be vehicle thieves.

The amendment makes it “unlawful to tamper with the motor vehicle, or contents, accessories, and/or appurtenances thereof, of another for the purpose of attempting to steal a motor vehicle or its contents.”

The amendment was proposed as a way to address the practice of “handle flipping,” or checking a series of vehicles to see if they are unlocked.

Columbia Police Department Deputy Chief Karla Heine said this amendment will allow police to stop suspects, issue a search warrant for their vehicles and interview suspected participants. 

She said the amendment  “gives (Columbia police) more grip on things we can do” when vehicle tampering is suspected. 

“Before (the amendment) there was nothing really to be done” regarding suspected incidents, she said.

Brimm added the ordinance violation would be handled through the city attorney and gives police the ability to detain if necessary.

In other action, the city council approved expenses not to exceed $50,000 to purchase materials needed for water main realignment on Quarry Road.

The water main project will need to be completed to divert the main an acceptable distance from road construction during the upcoming Quarry Road roundabout project.

Columbia City Engineer Chris Smith explained the method of buying items currently in stock and from multiple vendors is atypical, but necessary to keep the roundabout project on schedule as vendors deal with potential rising cost and supply chain issues.

At the beginning of the meeting, Sue Spargo was recognized for her contributions to the city. Spargo resigned as Columbia Assistant to the City Administrator on Friday.

Brimm said the retirements of Spargo and Jackie Hausmann gave Columbia enough budgeted money to advertise for Spargo’s replacement and create a full-time administrative position for the Columbia Public Works Department.

He explained the role has been vacant since 2018. Since then, many of the role’s responsibilities have been transferred to the city’s assistant engineer, which Brimm described as “overly burdensome.”

Brimm pointed out that budget discussions will begin in April. While a budget surplus currently exists due to retirements, he advised the city should consider the need to fill personnel vacancies as well as providing for creation of new positions when planning for the upcoming fiscal year.  

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