City Hall's "small business" enterprises generate big profits

COLUMBIA, Mo 12/17/14 (Beat Byte)
--  Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid this week proposed transferring $5 million from the city's General Fund to fire and police pensions. 

But wait!  The General Fund -- which pays for active-duty firefighters and police officers -- was so broke that just last month, McDavid insisted the public increase property taxes.  So how can the city take $5 million from it for pensions? 

The answer:  by using money from the General Fund's "Unrestricted" portion, at last count $26,350,000

City Hall has over $144 million in so-called Unrestricted accounts, money that can be used for anything, hence the name "unrestricted."   Over $100 million of unrestricted money sits in the city's so-called "Enterprise" accounts, divided into large and small -- aka major and non-major -- business-type activities


Mostly fee-for-service utilities, city government's enterprises include the Water and Light Utility; the Sanitary Sewer Utility; and several small utilities and services called "non-major enterprises." 

Columbia city government's non-major enterprises have made major profits over the years.  From trash hauling to airport operations, these eight little businesses have accumulated $15,629,959 in the "Unrestricted" portion of their balance sheets as of Sept. 2013, the last date the city published its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR)

Columbia's "non-major enterprises" include the following:

1) Parking Utility:  City parking lots, garages, and parking meters.

2) Recreation Services:  Parks and Recreation Department services that charge fees. 

3) Storm Water Utility:  stormwater management and drainage facilities.

4) Solid Waste Utility:  trash pickup and landfill use

5) Columbia Regional Airport:   airport revenues and expenses Columbia Regional Airport.

6) Public Transportation:  bus service and other public transportation

7) Railroad:  railroad operations from Centralia to Columbia.

8) Transload Facility: operation of railroad's transload facility, which stores and ships rail freight

With over $144 million in Unrestricted funds across all its accounts, voters have been asking why City Hall keeps demanding more money:  in bond debt; rate hikes; fee hikes; fine hikes; and tax hikes.   So far, the Heart Beat has examined the Water and Light Utility's $73,888,661 Unrestricted balance and the Sanitary Sewer Utility's $11,733,871 Unrestricted balance; and the General Fund's $26,350,000.    

We'll wrap up with the rest of the money in our final segment.