- Written by Heart Beat staff
City Hall's largest cash stash
COLUMBIA, Mo 12/3/14 (Beat Byte) -- At nearly $74 million as of 2013, Columbia City Hall's Unrestricted Water and Light Fund is the largest pool of cash and liquid investments (CDs and such) readily available for virtually any city government project.
Hence, the name "Unrestricted."
The money sits in banks and other financial institutions where it can be loaned to developers and student apartment builders, while the ratepayers who provide it can't touch it.
For readers wondering why Columbia City Hall a) claims it has no money for new infrastructure, police officers, and firefighters; and b) raises utility rates every year without fail, the answer should be clear: city administrators siphon off millions of dollars that should be alleviating these problems.
Instead, they place it with banks and investment advisors for questionable uses. City Council members, meanwhile, neither read nor understand the city's financial reports, 4th Ward Councilman Ian Thomas told the Heart Beat earlier this year. "We defer to staff (i.e. city administrators) for most of that information," he said.
Senior city staffers have their own ideas about how to spend the money.
In a plan that sparked outrage, deputy city manager Tony St. Romaine wanted to spend Unrestricted Water and Light funds on "shovel-ready" land north of town, for "future development". City manager Mike Matthes suggested using the money to buy the old Ameren site in downtown's North Village Arts District. Neither man sought nor received City Council or citizen approval before going to the media with their plans.
The Water and Light Unrestricted Fund appears on page 29 of city government's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) pictured below (click for larger pic).
The rest -- $73,888,661 -- sat idly in the Unrestricted account, not doing any of the three jobs our City Charter says it must do.
As one of the area's largest depositors, City Hall doesn't want to look in its own bank accounts, possibly to avoid the wrath of powerful bankers and the developers to whom they lend.