Sun, Feb

City Hall needs to re-prioritize

COLUMBIA, Mo 8/19/13 (Op Ed) -- By now, you may have heard Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid ask if Columbia is "willing to pay" for more police officers and if so, how much?

But that question shifts the onus for crime to the law-abiding, hard-working, over-taxed, and in many quarters, struggling citizens of this community. It also ignores the many other issues that contribute to crime, and the many other ways to fight it (crime reduction takes more than just more cops).
Instead, the Mayor and other officials should be asking, "Is City Hall willing to prioritize public safety?" Though a majority of citizens have demanded that priority in surveys, public forums, and on the campaign trail, city officials seem to embrace everything but public safety.

In a typical City Council agenda, a non-priority spending spree unfolds that most recently featured "land banking" and a generous City Hall donation: three new houses to the Columbia Housing Authority, compliments of Federal, state, and local taxpayers.

And if the city cannot afford $3.5 million for more police, how can it afford $3 million from the so-called "water and light reserve fund" to buy so-called "shovel ready" land for private development?
City officials are happy to tap monies supposedly set aside for one purpose -- in this case, to fund the Water and Light Dept. -- for entirely different purposes. So why can't the Water and Light reserve fund be used to hire more cops?

People are still complaining about the Blind Boone Home, purchased 13 years ago for $163,000 taxpayer dollars and -- with the Heibel-March Store, another city purchase -- left to sit, rot, and depreciate. Ironically, these big-ticket purchases also hurt public safety (see the Broken Windows Theory).

Finally, take the money city government spends on itself -- or on its cronies and their big plans for downtown. Between Garagezilla I, Garagezilla II, the new City Hall, and some lavish renovations to the Parks Dept. and Municipal Court buildings, city government has spent over $50 million in just the last few years.
At $100,000 per police officer per year, $50 million could have funded 50 police officers for ten years. But funding police hasn't been a priority.

The first year city manager Mike Matthes took a "Reprioritize This" approach, his departments generated a nearly $2 million dollar surplus. So instead of viewing the crime crisis as yet another excuse to raise taxes, it should be viewed as an opportunity to re-prioritize at the top of the food chain, as the Columbia Police Officers Association has already suggested.
Savings from the 911 tax; reduced police overtime; and budget surpluses from thrifty departments are among potential sources suggested to fund more cops.
And hey! What about that Water and Light Reserve Fund?

-- Mike Martin for the Columbia Heart Beat