Part Seven of a series on the Columbia city budget
COLUMBIA, 9/8/10 (Beat Byte) -- Every year for 10 years, the City of Columbia's General Fund -- used to pay for fire, police, health, and other basic city services -- has "lost" money in budgets presented to the public and adopted by the City Council.
An almost singular focus of city leaders -- who point to its losses to justify service reductions or tax hikes -- the General Fund sits atop every annual city budget. One of 27 funds that represent the myriad duties of city government, the General Fund might be better named "the People's Fund." It's almost entirely tax-supported, and determines how well Columbia residents fare in any given year on city services.
"Only the General Fund is in trouble," said Columbia sewer utility superintendent and 36-year city employee Bill Weitkemper, an outspoken critic of City Hall's approach to utility billing and budgeting. "Utility funds are protected by rate increases."
Rate increases, Weitkemper explained, can allow the city to cover for bad budgeting behavior in its various utility funds, a luxury not afforded the General Fund, which relies on sales and other taxes. Columbia doesn't correctly apply water, stormwater, sewer and electric utility billing ordinances to all customers fairly, he said, a practice that has steadily forced utility rates skyward for the average user.
Losing Money Every Year: City of Columbia General Fund, 2000-2010
2000: - $ 1,950,230 loss
2001: - $ 1,052,503 loss
2002: - $ 2,165,355 loss
2003: - $ 2,595,029 loss
2004: - $ 3,587,694 loss
2005: - $ 4,128,270 loss
2006: - $ 3,972,195 loss
2007: - $ 3,773,196 loss
2008: - $ 3,373,205 loss
2009: - $ 4,969,180 loss
2010: - $ 3,627,974 loss