Growth in Columbia budget

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Columbia City Administrator Doug Brimm presented a budget overview during last Monday’s Columbia City Council meeting. 

The budget for the City of Columbia’s upcoming fiscal year, like many recent aspects of city business, is designed with the future in mind.

The city’s general fund budget is balanced, with $7,525,201 projected in both expenses and revenues. The city will carry a general fund balance of $3,801,383 forward at the end of fiscal year 2023. 

The city expects an overall budget surplus of $1.2 million at the end of FY23 with revenue from all departments expected to be $20,866,751 against expenses of $19,764,261.

In a recap of state disbursement of revenue for the current fiscal year, Brimm reported an 18.39 percent increase from FY21 numbers. Most notable was a 22.53 percent increase in income tax revenue and a 23.2 percent increase in sales tax, which he described as the result a “huge rebound” from the economic effects of COVID-19 in the prior fiscal year.

Also related to COVID-19, the city saw a 104.6 percent increase in its share of revenue from video gambling use as machine use was limited for a period in FY21. Brimm reminded the council that all video gambling revenue goes directly toward city park projects and improvements.  

He began his presentation by stating “adoption of the annual budget is the single most important policy decisions that (city council) will make in any given year” and the city will take a “different approach” with the FY23 version while awaiting completion of the city’s ongoing comprehensive plan project.

The goal is to re-frame future budgets as a “true financial plan” in conjunction with specific guidance and decisions based on a completed, long-term city plan.

Brimm told the Republic-Times an overhaul of the city’s current comprehensive plan is “long overdue,” adding that unlike the old plan, which only had ideas for how the city should grow, the new plan accounts for implementing the ideas. 

He continued by saying when the new comprehensive plan is developed, with subsequent approval expected by the end of 2022, it will not only provide a framework for the next 20-25 years, but it will allow Columbia residents to see how the city will make aspects of the plan a reality.

“Once this process concludes, I intend to lead the council through the creation and adoption of a strategic plan which establishes measurable goals and objectives for the next 3-5 years directly related to implementing the comprehensive plan,” Brimm said, explaining future budgets will “tie expenditures of public monies directly to the goals and objectives previously mentioned, which will ultimately allow the budget document to serve as a communications tool with the public.”

Brimm credited Columbia Director of Community Development Scott Dunakey for his work not only with facilitating the comprehensive plan project, but for his help in laying the groundwork for successful plan implementation.

He also thanked Columbia Mayor Bob Hill for his support in facilitating the suggested changes in practice moving forward.

While Brimm expects the FY25 budget will be the first to include specific comprehensive plan objectives, the FY23 budget is affected by the future considerations.

In the park fund especially, the newest budget shows a 16.51 percent decrease in expenses, with Brimm describing park finances as being in a “holding pattern” until the comprehensive plan is completed in order to “ensure funds are available to implement the recreational component as soon as possible.”

The $77,645 and $83,950 projected surpluses for FY22 and FY23, respectively, in the park fund will leave a fund balance of $510,000 for future park projects.

The park improvement fund, a separate budget section, will experience an $82,300 deficit as the city addresses “deferred maintenance items” such as replacing the Lions Pavilion at Bolm-Schuhkraft Park and installing an overlay on the Admiral Trost Park Trail.

Even with a nearly 31 percent increase in expenses for FY23, the park improvement fund is still projected to have $333,808 at the end of the next fiscal year, or 107 percent of the target fund balance.

Other departments waiting for the comprehensive plan to be completed are the city’s police and ambulance services.

Brimm expressed optimism for discussion about the potential for a new public safety complex to begin in earnest during the upcoming fiscal year.

For FY23, the police fund is expected to operate at a 10.31 percent and 4.88 percent increase in expenses for enforcement and dispatch, respectively.

Columbia will proceed with a $10,000 project to improve facilities which house the police dispatch and file backup “data center.”

The city will also spend $20,000 for police firing range upgrades.

The “wild card” in the police budget, according to Brimm, are ongoing negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police involving city law enforcement and telecommunication personnel compensation.

The ambulance fund, which is supplemented by the general fund, is also expected to have an increase in expenses, up 4.15 percent from FY21.

The budget anticipates a 21 percent increase in ambulance fuel costs and accounts for a 150 percent increase in the ambulance supply budget line, most of the increase coming from the purchase of two sets of “bunker gear” for staff and the purchase of two IV pump devices for ambulances.

The motor fuel tax budget will be operating at a $473,201 deficit in FY23 with a 17.48 percent increase in expenses from the prior year.

Major projects underway this fiscal year include the Quarry Road resurfacing and roundabout project, Carl Street Bridge reconstruction and engineering costs for the first phase of an upcoming project on Ghent Road.

The capital development fund will experience a 49.54 percent increase from expenses in FY22 with water and sewer extension projects, Valmeyer Road construction, Old State Route 3 resurfacing and installation of a previously-approved city-wide camera system.

The garbage fund will remain about the same. The purchase of a leaf vacuum machine last year eliminated the need for the annual contract of $90,000 or more for leaf and limb pickup services. 

Brimm calculated that the cost of the leaf vacuum over an expected service life of 15 years will save the city approximately 36.5 percent of annual costs, over $30,000, by using an in-house pickup operation.     

The administration budget shows a 3.13 percent decrease from FY22, although the city would like to add an additional information technology staff member to help Columbia IT Director James Mitchell.

Brimm said Mitchell has “single-handedly turned the city around” in regard to use of technology, but added “he is almost being stretched too thin.”

The additional IT staffer would operate in a “help desk” position, handling common IT questions and problems, allowing Mitchell to oversee technology functions throughout all city departments.

Also as part of the administration budget, the city will look to hire a replacement of an administrative assistant to the city administrator and mayor, a position vacated by the recent retirement of Sue Spargo. 

The city is also exploring the possibility of adding or creating a position responsible for community outreach.

Brimm ended his discussion by advising the council he and Columbia Treasurer Linda Sharp would like to develop a “fund balance policy” in the near future to help with administration of budget areas in the event they reach critical levels.

He also suggested the council consider increases of 3 percent for city water services and 5 percent for EMS services as a way to keep rates consistent with inflation, adding Columbia would still have some of the lowest rates in the area even with an increase.

When asked how he anticipates inflation affecting city operations in the future, Brimm said there are a number of factors the city cannot control, but he has “guarded optimism” there will be a return to normal – or at least a decrease from the 8 percent or higher annual inflation rate the country is currently experiencing – by the time Columbia is in position to implement projects associated with the comprehensive plan.

In lieu of a Committee of the Whole meeting, the Columbia City Council will convene for an optional work session at 5:30 p.m. April 18 at City Hall to allow elected officials to provide input on budget proposals. The meeting will be posted in accordance with the Open Meetings Act.

The public hearing prior to budget adoption will follow at 6:45 p.m. A vote to approve the proposed budget will be held during the city council meeting, which begins at 7 p.m.

To view the proposed budget, click here.

In other business from the April 4 meeting, Columbia City Engineer Chris Smith addressed the council with a resolution and letter of understanding between Columbia and the Illinois Department of Transportation for a resurfacing project on Route 3 just past Gilmore Lake Road north to the I-255 interchange.

The project, scheduled for letting June 17, will resurface both sides of Route 3, upgrade sidewalk curb ramps and pedestrian crossing signals at intersections, remove and replace shoulders and add rumble strips and replace guardrails.

Smith said the project is estimated to take 115 “working days” to complete, but cautioned it “may linger into next spring or early summer” if not completed by Nov. 30, the last day of IDOT’s road construction season schedule.

He said the work on Route 3 will not have any holiday or weekend restrictions, but will have “peak hour” restrictions from 6-9 a.m. daily.

The work on Route 3 north of Quarry Road will be limited to nighttime hours, as it falls into a separate IDOT road classification due to proximity to I-255.

Expected work on Valmeyer Road may be affected by the Route 3 project, Smith added.

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