Columbia approves budget

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Chet Barker (center) was honored at Monday’s Columbia City Council meeting for 24 years of service to the city as a member of the police board by Police Chief Joe Edwards and Mayor Kevin Hutchinson. (Andrea Degenhart photo)

At Monday night’s meeting of the Columbia City Council, aldermen approved a budget for the fiscal year that begins May 1.

The total budget is for $15,580,384 in expenditures and $13,117,028 in receipts. This is an increase of just greater than $1 million in expenses over last year’s budget, about $500,000 of which will be funded by leftover proceeds from bonds received in the previous fiscal year and therefore not represented in this year’s budget.

While the budget shows deficit spending of more than $2 million, this figure is based on projections of the city’s revenue over the next year.

“We are usually conservative with our revenue projections and consistently fall under budgeted expenditures so it looks a lot worse than it is,” Columbia City Administrator James Morani said. “But we’re able to do this because of the accumulated surpluses in the various funds.

Mayor Kevin Hutchinson echoed Morani’s assessment of the conservative nature of the budget.

“The budget is down to bare bones,” Hutchingson said. “We had to limit any major expenditures.”

The largest fund, the water and sewer operations fund, has a budget of $3,576,042. Fees and service charges account for $3,157,254 in revenue for the fund.

Among the budgeted expenses is $160,000 for the city’s ongoing project to convert its old water meters to electronic ones in an effort to save money by providing more accurate usage readings.

There is also a planned water line replacement project for portions of several streets in the old town area including Riebeling and Cherry streets, Centreville Avenue and Liberty Street, as well as continuation of a project to reline sections of the city’s aging sewers.

An additional $250,000 in expenditures are in fact transfers of funds into savings to prepare for future replacements and improvements, points out Morani.

“Essentially, we’re not ‘spending’ this money but it shows as an expense in the budget because of the fund transfer,” he said.

The second largest area of expenditures, the police department’s portion of the general fund, amounts to $2,227,834. It includes expenditures related to the leasing of three new squad cars over the course of the next three months, as well as equipment required to outfit them.

Earlier this month, Columbia voters defeated for a second time a sales tax increase that would have helped offset anticipated deep cuts to municipal budgets across the state from Gov. Bruce Rauner’s attempts to bridge a $6 billion shortfall,

“We are uncertain how much the state will cut from our revenue,” Hutchinson said. “We will continue to be creative and do more with less.”
The budget in its entirety is available online at ColumbiaIllinois.com under the City Government tab.

Also at Monday’s meeting, months of negotiations came to an end as the council voted to approve an agreement among the city, the Columbia Khoury League, Columbia Athletic Association and Columbia School District for use of fields at American Legion Park and Bolm-Schuhkraft Park.

Although the Khoury League, Athletic Association and School District will have the right of “first use” in scheduling ball fields for organized team play during specially designated times, there will be at least one field available at all times for open play by the city’s residents.

“It is exciting to partner with a group that cares for the youth of Columbia as much as the city council and school district does,” Hutchinson said.

Field and facility maintenance will be split among the city, Athletic Association and Khoury League: the Athletic Association will maintain the fields from August through February, and the Khoury League from March through July. The city will deal with grass, weeds, rest rooms, buildings and trash-pickup all year.

“I am confident that the Columbia Khoury League and Columbia Athletic Association will keep the fields in great shape for the youth and citizens of Columbia,” Hutchinson added.

Also as part of the agreement, the city will receive a portion of fees collected by the Khoury League and Athletic Association, which will be designated solely for maintenance and capital improvements and capped at $18,000 per year for the first two years of the agreement.

More information on the athletic fields, rules and reservations can be found at ColumbiAathleticAssociation.org or ColumbiaKhouryLeague.com.

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