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CAFR CHAT: Just how much cash DOES City Hall have?

Do you know where your money is?  This series will help you find out.
 

COLUMBIA, Mo 3/7/14 (Beat Byte) --  CAFR Chat?  What's that?   It's our new periodic series on the most important document at City Hall -- the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report or CAFR (pronounced "kay-fer").  
 
With news of a petition to audit City Hall, the city manager's failed TIF push, and the Feb. 17 kerfuffle over how much cash the city has in its sewer utility fund, people are asking:  Is Columbia really too poor to afford infrastructure upgrades?   How much cash does City Hall really have? 

For the answer, turn to page 53 in the latest CAFR:  $382,039,276.00  

How much of that money is off-limits, and could never be spent on infrastructure, more police, and other critical city services?   The answer is on the same page:  $203.7 million. 

Of that, $91 million is in "restricted accounts" (e.g. $4,292,633 in customer security deposits) and another $112.6 million is in so-called "fiduciary accounts" such as the Firefighters and Police Retirement Fund. 

How much is free to do the People's Business?  $178.3 million, of which $144 million sits entirely unencumbered in the city's "unrestricted, undesignated fund balances." 

Where does City Hall keep all this money?  In many of the same places you and I do.   City government had $72.5 million in money markets; $9.3 million in mutual funds; and $58.3 million in common stock among its many holdings.   
So can the city of Columbia afford infrastructure replacement without more tax increases, rate increases, or bond debt?
 
Yes!  Absolutely, according to the CAFR. 

Then why does the city manager always say annual budgets are tight?   Squeaky tight, even? 
 
Because the Annual Budget and the CAFR are very different animals. 

The Annual Budget is a financial roadmap the city manager assembles that appropriates resources from the CAFR to various tasks.  The City Council must approve it, and always does with normally minor changes. 
 
The sewer utility is a good example.  In the CAFR, it has $11.8 million in unrestricted funds.   But only $1.6 million shows in the Annual Budget.  Why the difference?  That's all the city manager wants to place in the sewer utility's unrestricted fund.     

In short, the Annual Budget shows us where the city manager wants us to go

The CAFR shows us where we are. 


-- Mike Martin chaired the City of Columbia Finance and Audit CommissionHe earned his MBA and Masters in Physics from the University of Washington in Seattle.  He has been studying and writing about Columbia city finances for nearly a decade. 


 
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