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Budget Amendments: Growth Impact Study, Funding for Transit/Airport, and City Employee Pay

September 2, 2018

Dear Constituent:

On Tuesday evening, an important public hearing on the City of Columbia proposed FY-2019 budget

During Tuesday's meeting, the City Council will vote on a number of amendments to the City Manager's original budget proposal. Although there will be one more public hearing on September 17 at which further changes could be made, I encourage you to share your thoughts with Council members no later than this Tuesday.

In this newsletter, I will provide a summary of the input I have received from you on critical budget issues, and present the budget amendments I am proposing - each of which has been informed by the hundreds of emails I have received from constituents over the last few weeks.

Growth Impact Study

Last month, I polled you on how the City should pay for the expansion of public infrastructure to accommodate a growing population. As illustrated in your compiled responses, an overwhelming 95% of respondents believe we should levy development impact fees to cover the cost of growth.

Therefore, I have requested a budget amendment which would allocate $75,000 to conduct a "Growth Impact Study" to determine how much it costs the City to expand public infrastructure systems such as the road system, water treatment plant, and new fire stations for new development. The results of this analysis will be used to inform policy that will fairly and efficiently recover the cost of growth.

Here is are a couple of examples of Growth Impact Studies, and some general information about impact fees:

Funding for Transit and Airport

Many thanks to those of you who responded to my other poll, regarding the possibility of imposing a parking fee at the Columbia Regional Airport. According to your input, about 70% of you support a small parking fee, while 16% oppose the fee and/or feel it would discourage travelers from using the airport, and 14% are neutral or gave nuanced responses.

I am exploring this idea because both the airport and transit receive funds from the "half cent on the dollar" Transportation Sales Tax. I have a serious concern about the airport receiving a $2 million annual subsidy from this regressive tax which is paid disproportionately by poor people who never use the airport, and then giving business travelers free parking (which is unheard of at similar airports). According to this Government Technology article, parking fees make up 20% to 25% of a typical airport's revenue.

At the same time, our public transit system is really struggling because of reduced sales tax revenues as online purchasing grows. Unlike the airport and other services, the transit operating budget is almost entirely dependent on sales taxes, and the City Manager is proposing drastic cuts that will take effect next June, in order to avoid insolvency.

In my view, we need to re-think our allocation of Transportation Sales Tax (TST) revenues. A minimal $3/day parking fee at the airport would generate $1 million/year, allowing the City to start weaning the airport off its sales tax subsidy while maintaining or improving our transit level of service for the poeple who depend on it.

Before rushing to impose a parking fee, I want to address the concern that this move might cause travelers to abandon Columbia Regional Airport and fly out of St. Louis or Kansas City instead. Therefore, my second budget amendment would allocate $25,000 to conduct an "Economic Elasticity Study" to evaluate this concern.

My final amendment would mitigate the negative impact of the proposed transit cuts, by providing a low-cost, on-demand "Flex" service to the areas of Columbia scheduled to lose "Fixed Route" service in June. According to a previouis study, this would cost about $500,000/year, which could be funded through a reallocation of TST revenues and a small parking fee.

City Employee Pay

Last but not least, I also support a proposal put forward by Mayor Brian Treece and Councilman Karl Skala to increase employee pay in certain City service areas.

We are struggling to hire and retain workers in solid waste collection, electric line operations, and public safety because the work is hard, dangerous, and/or poorly compensated compared with other employers. While there is value in our existing policy of sharing pay raises across all departments, I believe we need now to focus attention on a few specific areas.

Constituent Conversations

My next Constituent Conversations will be held on Sunday October 14th, 2-4pm at Dunn Bros. Coffee. Dates for Constituent Conversations are always available at my web site.

Cheers, Ian