Council plans mid-year spending spree

City leaders are about to spend $24 million more than they initially budgeted for this fiscal year.

But that doesn't mean they're boosting Columbus' budget by almost 10 percent, from $205.5 million to $229.7 million, though that will be how much they'll have spent after drawing down the city's reserve funds in their mid-year budget adjustment.

"We're really just spending down some of the fund balance, and we don't expect our budget next year to automatically be this amount," said Finance Director Pam Hodge.

Most of the expenditures will be one-time equipment purchases postponed when this year's budget first was adopted last June. City leaders decided to wait until mid-year to stock up on cars, trucks, fork lifts, buses, mowers, computers and other gear, partly to see how much money they would have after the first six months of the 2008 fiscal year.

The city's annual audit this year showed its general fund for operations had more than $50 million, enough to run the city for 131 days at $383,877 a day. City administrators prefer to keep enough in reserve to run the government for 90 days, so they propose drawing that down by $15.8 million. That would leave $34.3 million, enough to keep the city going for 89 days.

Other reserves from separate budgets, such as the city's sewer and paving funds, also will chip in to supplement the mid-year budget boost.

Among the added expenses will be 21 public safety positions that were authorized but not funded in this year's budget, 12 with the fire department and nine at the county prison.

City administrators had wanted to add five other positions that recently were deleted from the budget as Columbus cut personnel. Together worth about $130,000, those were two mechanics, a special enforcement officer and a carpenter in the public services department, and an administrative assistant in the city manager's office. Councilors decided to hold off on restoring those positions until the next budget cycle.

With those jobs deleted from the mid-year budget, only about $1.2 million in recurring personnel expenses will be added to the city's general fund, bumping it up next year by less than 1 percent, Hodge said.

Councilors will consider that budget adjustment during a meeting this morning at the Columbus Iron Works Convention & Trade Center. After that, they'll kick off a two-day planning retreat to hear presentations from department heads and community leaders, and to discuss long-range goals. They'll talk about wireless communication, city finances, personnel, planning, public safety, tourism and economic development.