Council delays vote on $24 million expenditure

Columbus Council has decided to hold onto your money for another week.

Councilors delayed a vote to spend $24 million on a mid-year budget adjustment in which the city would draw down its reserve funds and use the money to replace aging equipment and hire some new workers, primarily firefighters and corrections officers for the county prison.

Council was holding a special meeting Thursday at the Iron Works Convention & Trade Center, where they are spending two days in a planning retreat. Mayor Pro-Tem Evelyn Pugh felt that was not the proper venue to hold a public hearing on a budget matter. Other councilors agreed, and the vote was postponed until Tuesday.

That meeting next week was to be a work session in which city leaders vote only on a "consent agenda" and get briefings from administrative staff, but council also voted today to switch that to a regular council meeting in which the public hearing can be held.

Most of the mid-year expenditures will be one-time equipment purchases postponed when this year's budget 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'd 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 in reserve, 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.

This mid-year spending will not boost Columbus' budget from $205.5 million to $229.7 million, though that will be how much the city will have spent after drawing down its reserves. Only about $1.2 million will be recurring personnel expenses, increasing the city's general fund by about 1 percent, said Finance Director Pam Hodge.