"The only way to regain trust..."

COLUMBIA, Mo 4/19/18 (Beat Byte) -- The men and women who put their lives on the line during fires and crises have joined a chorus of city employees demanding an impartial audit of Columbia City Hall's finances. 

"It is the opinion of the Columbia Professional Firefighters, Local 1055 (CPFF) that an external and impartial audit of the City’s finances is the first step in regaining the trust and showing the transparency of the City of Columbia,"  CPFF President Travis Gregory wrote to the City Council.  "Citizens of Columbia lack trust in the City to spend tax dollars appropriately. An external and impartial audit of the City’s books, records, holdings and finances...is the only way to begin to regain the trust of the taxpaying citizens." 

Gregory cites several concerns, most notably City Hall's $320 million cash account at Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS).  The account balance has risen $14 million since Gregory wrote the letter, according to the city's latest Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR).

"Media reports state that the City has a Union Bank of Switzerland/Swiss Bank Corp. account that currently sits at $306,312,528, and that figure has steadily increased over the years," Gregory wrote. "Citizens feel there is no need for additional revenue until this figure is explained."

Among the group's other concerns:  "Citizens have voted against major tax initiatives proposed by the City, including a 2014 Public Safety Tax and 2017 Use Tax proposition," Gregory wrote.  "A significant lack of trust also exists after the approval to spend $1.1 million of General Fund revenue on the Flat Branch Park expansion." 

The city's General Fund finances public safety, which makes the new park a dilemma for city administrators claiming the fund is too broke to afford more cops and firefighters.

A renewed public safety property tax is already afoot, but "the Citizen Survey released in February of 2018 showed that only 36% of citizens would be 'very likely' to support another tax," Gregory explained.

"The Columbia Board of Realtors has stated they are unwilling to support such a tax under the current circumstances.  This shows that there is a severe distrust of the City’s use of tax payer funds."
Council members were moving toward an agreement with State Auditor Nicole Galloway to perform the audit, but 5th Ward Councilman Matt Pitzer and 2nd Ward Councilman Michael Trapp are "balking" about the audit's proposed $750,000 cost. 

Pitzer also expressed skepticism about the audit on the KFRU Sunday Morning Roundtable, joining co-host David Shorr's opinion that the public simply "doesn't understand" complicated city financial workings.
The Columbia Professional Firefighters, Local 1055 represents 119 uniformed Columbia firefighters.  Gregory wrote the Council that CPFF members support "transparency, citizen involvement, inclusiveness, and openness."