2006-04-28 / Government / Neighborhood

Columbia City Council Meeting + April 26, 2006 + 9 am

By John Temple Ligon

John Dooley
John Dooley Roll call

City council convened for its work session Wednesday morning, April 26, at 9 am. Council member Sam Davis was on jury duty, but all other council members were present: Tameika Isaac Devine, E. W. Cromartie, Mayor Bob Coble, Anne Sinclair, Daniel Rickenmann, and councilman-elect Kirkman Finlay.

Water and wastewater

Bill Ziebutz , consultant for Black & Veatch, and John Dooley , city utilities, explained the costs in water and sewer for the next five years. For maintenance, expect $35.5 million. In pumping stations, another $142 million will be needed. Five years' worth of water quality improvements should cost $4.5 million. Fire protection in the next five years comes to $40 million. Water system expansion, including moving water from Lake Murray to Northeast Columbia, costs $42 million. Significant capital improvement needs through 2011 come to more than $350 million. Two-thirds of the city's system is over 50 years old. Recommendations included 5% annual increases for at least the next five years. Other recommendations focused on reduction of transfers from the water and sewer fund. For the past several years, the city has been dipping into the water and sewer fund for just about anything.

Bill Ziebutz
Bill Ziebutz

Buses

Rick Silver of Chernoff Newman (formerly Chernoff-Silver) and Mitzi Javers of the Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority explained transit services have to be reduced soon by 85% because funding should also reduce by 85%. Operating on a $11 million budget, the CMRTA dropped its trolley service and, consequently, dropped $600,000 in annual expense. Silver promoted the one-cent sales tax increase as a means to salvage the bus system.

Affordable housing

Dana Turner , assistant city manager for commerce and development, presented points on affordable housing. Council agreed to pursue the following issues: (1) Are our neighborhoods experiencing gentrification or are they experiencing normal changes in keeping with society? (2) How does the community define affordable housing? (3) What factors cause people to choose houses in the inner city versus houses in Northeast Columbia or Irmo? (4) Are the city's loan programs effective in providing the affordable housing sought and needed by the community? (5) Are the development corporations providing the types of affordable housing sought by the community? (6) What programs or policies need to be in place to encourage developers to provide more affordable housing in Columbia? (7) If one or more of the above suggestions are proposed for adoption, what legal hurdles will be involved in implementing the suggestion?

Rick Silver
Rick Silver

Balanced budget, assuming a

20-mill tax increase

Melissa Caughman , budget administrator, guided council through next year's budget, to include a 20-mill tax increase. Finlay feared for the water and sewer fund, and he proposed a firewall between the fund the city's other obligations and wants and needs. Caughman explained she started with a budget of about $113 million, and now she's approaching $90 million. Some basic services are threatened, and there are no new services in the works.

Dana Turner and Kirkman Finlay
Dana Turner and Kirkman Finlay

Free medical

Dennis Coker , executive director, brought council up to date on The Free Medical Clinic, Inc. They have just about doubled the patient/visitor count in the past three years. In 2003, they had 7,084 patient encounters and in 2005, 13,364. Since 1984, its first year, the clinic has provided over 127,000 medical visits. Coker asked council for $25,000, and council voted to grant the money.

Volunteers

Mac Bennett of the United Way asked council for financial help with his Volunteer Center proposal. Council consented with $20,000.

Matt Dreher
Matt Dreher

Pedicabs, Charleston-style

Jim Meggs , city attorney, suggested a pre-emptive strike. He offered to structure some regulations and requirements for rickshaws, well before any actually show up in Columbia looking for a business license.

Wheeler Hill stop sign

A stop sign passed approval of its neighborhood association at Wheeler Hill, according to Matt Dreher of the association. He had opposition, though, plenty of it. The opposition came from neighbors who apparently missed the meeting. Council backed the neighborhood association and the stop sign.

Money to move

Trumbill Services, reportedly part of Hartford Insurance, moved from Highway 277 north of town to 1333 Main Street. The city offered Trumbill up to $260,000 in incentives to move, something of a rent subsidy for Trumbill and maybe a gift for the owner of 1333 Main Street. The $260,000 comes to 300 jobs at $866.67 per job. Cromartie asked to see a racial breakdown of the employee pool.

Mac Bennett
Mac Bennett

Next meeting

Council meets Wednesday, May 3, at 9 am for its work session on the third floor of City Hall, corner of Laurel and Main.

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