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CoMo MAYOR: Big concerns, questions about utility rate hikes

Treece drops financial bombshell.  Straightening *crooked* things.

COLUMBIA, Mo  8/27/17 (Beat Byte) -- Columbia Mayor Brian Treece says he is skeptical about the latest round of utility rate hikes city manager Mike Matthes wants the City Council to approve. 

"I don't see how the Water and Light utility can justify a rate increase," Treece told KFRU radio host David Lile earlier this month.  "I'm gonna have a lot of questions about this when it comes to us as part of the budget.  I'm not convinced yet."
 
He made some eyebrow-raising remarks about missing financial reports and millions in cash reserves to help make his case.  

The water and electric rate increases came up about 14 minutes into the interview, after Treece praised Boone County's road and bridge tax

"You endorsed a YES vote on the road and bridge tax extension," Lile reminded. 
 
"My mom always said 'Don't make a straight road crooked'," the Mayor quipped.   The county road tax "has worked very well.  The City of Columbia has been the recipient of over $18 million in the past 10 years." 

Conversation turned to the utility hikes after Treece noted, "voters and ratepayers expect that we use their resources wisely." 

"Why the raise in utility rates?" Lile asked. 
 
"They want to raise rates to increase their cash reserves," Treece responded. "That's a non-starter for me." 
 
As of September 2016, the city's Water and Light Utility had $49.2 million in cash reserves.   Citywide cash reserves, which include city-owned utilities, hit $300 million as of the last audited financial report.

Lile played devil's advocate.   "The utility would argue that these are cash reserves to be used in the future for unforeseen purposes." 
 
But Treece stood firm.  Few purposes are "unforeseen" with the level of planning the utility and other city departments conduct.    "We have a capital improvements plan that has a budget that has funding sources attached to it," the Mayor said.   "And again, they're talking about a 4% increase in water rates and a 1% increase in electric rates."

The current annual inflation rate is just 1.6%. 

Then the Mayor dropped a financial bombshell.   The city's Water and Light Utility "has been unable to produce an accurate financial report since October 2016," he said.  

City government has so far failed to file online both 6-month and 9-month "interim 2017 financial reports," due in March and June of this year (at link under Other Reports).   Those financials include city-owned utility data.
 

Want to voice your opinion?   Contact the Columbia City Council:

Brian Treece, Mayor
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Clyde Ruffin
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Michael Trapp
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Karl Skala
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Ian Thomas
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Matt Pitzer
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Betsy Peters  
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Mike Matthes, Columbia city manager
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