Columbia Parks and Recreation budget trumps Police Department funds
Updated On: Jul 12 2013 07:45:25 AM CDT
It has been a month since someone fired multiple shots in downtown Columbia. Since then, there have been an additional five shootings, including a murder.
That recent violence has kept police officers busy, but is there enough money in the budget for police to keep the public safe?
Right now, Columbia's budget is about $413 million, which includes $380 million in revenues.
Public safety accounts for just under 10 percent of that budget.
In fact, for the 2013 fiscal year, the Parks and Recreation Department has more money than the Police Department. While some of that money is from a designated Parks and Recreation tax that voters approved, many city residents had no idea.
According to the city budget, $40 million goes to public safety. That includes the fire department, police, Joint Communications, emergency management and municipal court.
Of that $40 million, $19.5 million is devoted to the police department.
After digging through city finances and the budget, ABC 17 News discovered that the Parks and Recreation Department has a budget of more than $20 million.
Even though city residents voted to pay the tax on Parks and Recreation, most did not realize those funds add up to a higher number than the police budget.
City leaders say almost all parks are paid for by the tax with the help of some grants.
"We only use those designated funds that the law allows us to spend on parks," said 2nd Ward Councilman Michael Trapp. "The police are almost only funded out of general fund dollars, and general fund dollars we can spend on anything that we think helps the mission of the city."
However, some residents feel the city should set aside additional money for the police department.
"It seems like with Columbia growing, they should have a little more," said one resident. "But I don't know where they would get it from."
Trapp says the community could come up with an initiative for a public safety tax, just as they did for Parks and Recreation, and it would work the same way.
"There's been some talk of a public safety tax and as a candidate, I didn't support that, but now that I've seen the underlying need for more officers, and we could also use a few more firefighters and an additional fire station, so I would be supportive of a public safety tax," said Trapp.
The recent passage of a 911 sales tax freed up some of the general fund dollars and Trapp says the city is using most of those dollars to close up the budget gap, among other needs.
"There are some other basic things we need to do, like capital improvements, like sewers and stormwater and things that don't seem as compelling as police work, but are really necessary to have a city that works," he said.
Even though the funds are going toward those city projects, Trapp says the upcoming budget will still have room for CPD to hire three more officers. Currently, 191 people are employed by the police department.
ABC 17 News put in phone calls to every public leader, including the mayor, city manager and all City Council members.
Only Trapp and 5th Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser returned our phone calls.
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