Columbia receives positive audit

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Financially, the City of Columbia has successfully navigated problems associated with the COVID pandemic thus far, according to an audit report given at Monday night’s Columbia City Council meeting.

Jim Schmersahl, CPA,  of Schmersahl, Treloar & Co. gave a “clean opinion” of the city’s fiscal position and accounting.

“We found the books to be neat and orderly” in regard to financial statements and asset and liability reporting, as well as basic expenditures and expenditures that require specific reporting, such as grant funds.  

“The audit was very much textbook, and it went the way you would want it to go,” Schmersahl summarized.

He noted that the $9.83 million and $5.2 million “cash and equivalent” balances in Columbia’s government and business-type (i.e. utility services, etc.) accounts, respectively, represents a increase in both areas compared to the prior year.

“The increase reflects a very nice year for (Columbia) as you navigated through the coronavirus challenge,” Schmersahl reported.

As for assets, the city has a little over $14 million in the governmental account and $6.7 million in the business-type account.

With depreciation, the “net balance is the same” in regard to capital assets, but Schmersahl noted that the city added over $1 million of capital improvement through work such as the Main Street Streetscape project, improvements at Columbia parks and projects on Quarry and Valmeyer roads.

Schmersahl noted the city has an “outstanding position” in relation to its pension funding, with IMRF being 107 percent funded, which eliminates any fees that could be incurred from being underfunded.

Another positive for the city involves the closure of a 25-year Admiral Parkway Tax Increment Financing District earlier this year.

The tax funds from increased equalized assessed value on properties in the district had been put in a separate TIF fund to further improve the area, but now the  revenue will go to the city’s general fund.

Columbia City Administrator Doug Brimm referred to the TIF district when discussing the city’s upcoming 2021 tax levy, which is expected to be approved at a December city council meeting.

Brimm told the council that a conservative estimate based on rolling average from 2017 to present put the city’s EAV for properties at a 8.36 percent increase. 

He acknowledged that the increase “may raise some questions,” but reiterated the increased value of improved properties in the Admiral Parkway TIF district are now included in the projection.

“With the expiration of that TIF district, there is an additional $10.96 million of EAV that is going to be  influxed into the overall big picture for the city,” Brimm continued.

While the total levy will increase 4.08 percent, Brimm said with the EAV projected increase, there will “likely” be a decrease in the city property tax rate of around 4 percent, depending on the actual assessments.

One item that was on the agenda but was not discussed was the proposed Bluff Ridge Estates subdivision in the northernmost part of the city.

The proposal was the topic of much conversation in July due to uncertainty about annexation, zoning, traffic and watershed concerns. 

The topic was discussed at the Nov. 8 Columbia Plan Commission meeting and was met with many of the same comments from neighboring subdivision residents and developers. 

Brimm told the Republic-Times Tuesday that the matter had been tabled in order to give time to consider new information about alignment issues with Rueck Road and Rueck Parkway relating to the proposed development.

In action taken Monday night, the council voted to approve the purchase of a city-wide camera system in the amount of $193,810.24.

This new system will be purchased using American Rescue Plan Act funds.

The camera system will update current cameras used in the city at roadway intersections, parks and city government buildings that assist in situations involving public safety and security. 

Columbia Police Chief Jason Donjon confirmed that these cameras, which are monitored at the police station, will update the city’s existing camera system and offer higher resolution images.

The council had met in executive session Nov. 1 and questions were raised about the new system’s warranty and other associated costs, all of which were addressed satisfactorily before the council approved the purchase.

The council also approved an agreement with Everstream GLC Holding Company for a telecommunications right-of-way agreement. The company will be installing fiber optic lines, with some of the work being done on behalf of Harrisonville Telephone Company.

In other business, the city finalized the purchase of property at 482 Wilson Drive earlier this month. The action had been approved by the city council in October to “provide an alternative entrance for the planned Creekside Park.”

The property was purchased for $165,000, but  by eliminating the need for a entrance to the park from Rueck Road, reduced the project cost by $301,000 according to an October staff report.

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