Columbia Star

Columbia City Council begins process to adopt a budget for 2015/16

Columbia City Council held a public hearing concerning the budget at its monthly meeting Tuesday, May 19.

This meeting was the latest step in the process to adopt a budget for the 2015/2016 fiscal year. According to the presentation given by Melisa Caughman, director for budget and program management, public safety and water and sewer infrastructure needs were among the top priorities in the budget.

To help address needs in public safety, the proposed budget eliminates the transfer from the water and sewer fund to the general fund and instead calls for a $2.6 million transfer to public safety. The budget also includes moving the budgets of the Office of Business Opportunities and the Development Corporations to the general fund budget, saving $1.6 million in expenses from the water and sewer budget.

The budget also calls for a proposed 9.5 percent increase to the water and sewer rate. The increase equals less than $5 per month, based on average use, for in-city customers and $8 per month for outof city customers. The increase is expected to generate approximately $11 million in new revenue, which is expected to be used in the water and sewer system. According to Caughman, since the 2008-2009 fiscal year nearly $300 million has been spent on water and sewer system infrastructure. Nearly $120 million in capital improvement projects is including in the 2015/2016 budget.

Among the water projects proposed for the upcoming year is a watermain extension along the Shop Road extension, streetscaping along North Main Street, and system improvements to Bull Street. Some of the proposed storm water projects include Highland Park, Granby Park, Windemere Avenue, and Bull Street drainage improvements.

The proposed water and sewer budget is $133,780,145, an increase of more than $6 million from the 2014/2015 budget.

The proposed budget for the general fund is $130,727,558, an increase of more than $3 million from last year’s budget.

The proposed budget for Hospitality Tax is $10.6 million, a decrease of over $1.2 million from last year.

The Parking Fund budget is $7,274,500 and the Accommodations budget is $2,100,801.

The budget also includes an increase to the franchise fee from 3 percent to 5 percent and reflects the reduction of property taxes by two mills.

There were citizens in favor for and against some of the measures taken in the proposed budget.

“It is my opinion the money transferred will do more to ensure the safety for our citizens than any other investment the city can make in public safety,” firefighter Victor Kemper said, “Over the past decade the fire department has experienced its worst attrition rating in its history, at more than 12 percent. The public safety transfer will go a long way in stemming the tide in the losses we are currently experiencing.”

Jim Reid said, “I’m opposed to any increase to the SCE&G franchise fee. This is a tax increase; it’s just being called by a different name. This tax increase will create a financial hardship on low income citizens, senior citizens, those on fixed incomes, and businesses. This tax increase will come on top of an almost 10 percent increase to water and sewer rates and a major increase in property taxes by Richland School District One.

“Many non-profit entities will be exempt of this tax, thus this tax will primarily be paid by the citizens of Columbia. Since this tax is a percentage of SCE&G bills, it will rise proportionately as SCE&G rates continue to go up. The 2 percent tax to the SCE&G bill will be higher than the proposed reduction of two mills in property taxes, thus Columbia residents will accrue a net increase in cost. This tax will make Columbia less attractive to businesses. Rather than increase the tax burden on citizens, we must consider alternatives such as cutting nonessential spending and identifying other sources of revenue. Moe Baddourah’s proposal to close the loop holes on the city business license procedures is an excellent start.”

The first official reading of the budget is scheduled for June 2, with the second reading slated for June 16.

Council approved the first reading of a zoning confirmation for 7201 Garners Ferry Road. A request to rezone 102 Christian Street from single family residential to office and institutional was denied.

An ordinance consenting to include 1.26 acres on the southwest corner of Main and College Streets in a multi-county industrial/business park agreement received second reading approval.

Council approved a request to install 16 speed humps in the Lyon Street Neighborhood. Those locations include 1208, 1303, and 1513 Lyon Street; 1225 Liberty Hill Avenue; 2424 and 2436 Washington Street; 1211, 1314, and 1516 McDuffie Street; 1223, 1317, and 1513 Manning Street; 818 and 1108 Tree Street; and 1113 and 1311 King Street.

Mayor Benjamin proclaimed May 2015 as Bike and Bicycle Safety Month. He also proclaimed May 2015 as National Preservation Month. Dr. John Bryan was presented the City of Columbia’s Mabel Payne award.

John Taylor was reappointed to the Planning Commission and April James was appointed. Mary Greene was reappointed to the Columbia Tree and Appearance Commission. Joel Smith III was appointed to the Columbia Museum of Art, replacing Suzan Boyd.

The next Columbia City Council meeting will be held Tuesday, June 2 at 1737 Main Street beginning at 6:00 p.m.

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