Five years of non-stop hikes from city manager and City Council

COLUMBIA, Mo 11/23/15 (Beat Byte) -- Data from the most recent economic quarter shows Columbia is now the highest cost of living city in Missouri

Measuring grocery, housing, utility, transportation, heathcare, and miscellaneous costs, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC) ranks Columbia ahead of St. Louis and Kansas City, and at least three points higher than the state average (chart).  

Columbia's historically-low cost of living started rising after city manager Mike Matthes took office in 2011.   With City Council approval, he has enacted a dizzying array of fee, fine, and rate hikes, while cutting services and pushing voters to approve higher taxes.  

Matthes' 2012 city Budget hiked: 

  • Garbage collection fees

  • Park use fees

  • Health department food handler card fees

  • Water rates

  • Sewer rates

  • Bus fares 

At the same time, he and the 7-member Council cut city bus service and support for public school crossing guards.     

His 2013 Budget increases netted City Hall an extra $12.3 million in fees alone, a 5.7% gain over 2012.    Virtually all the cost increases fell on average workers and small businesses, including:  

  • Tattoo parlor inspection fees

  • Retaurant inspection fees

  • Utility connection fees

  • Parking garage permit fees

  • Building permit fees

  • Building and site plan review fees

  • Rental unit inspection fees

  • Recreational service fees.    Several utility rates also went up in 2013: 

  • Garbage collection

  • Electricity, up 1.5%    

  • Water, up 5%

  • Sewer, up 15%   

Matthes-driven, Council-approved fee hikes in 2014 netted another $5.9 million, a 2.5% jump over the previous year.   That year,  the city manager raised: 

  • Park use fees

  • Parking fees

  • Business license fees

  • Health Department service fees

Parking was back on the fee increase list last year, with the city manager's Budget raising an extra $6.8 million, a 2.9% increase over the prior year.   In 2015, Matthes hiked: 

  • Surface lot parking permits

  • Parking fines

  • Commercial garbage collection rate

  • Roll-off dumpster garbage collection rates

  • Downtown CID-area garbage collection rates

  • Landfill fees

  • Sewer connection fees, from $800 to $1,200

  • Municipal speeding fines

  • Water tap, meter, and backflow-prevention fees

Meanwhile, electric rates went up 2%;  sewer rates another 6%; downtown parking enforcement hours increased; and Columbia residents received 25 fewer black trash bags per year, from 75 to 50. 

Mr. Matthes' 2016 Budget is more of the same.   In the upcoming year, his fee hikes will raise another $9.9 million, or 4.1% over the estimated take from 2015, including:

  • Commercial trash collection

  • Landfill fees

  • Parking lot permit fees

  • Garage parking fees

A voter-approved 25% stormwater fee increase also takes effect.   

City Hall also receives money from several taxes, including: 

  • Property taxes ($0.41/$100 assessed value)

  • 1% general sales tax

  • 1/4% capital improvement tax 

  • 1/4%  parks sales tax

  • 1/2%  transportation sales tax  

  • Hotel/motel gross receipts tax

  • Cigarette sales tax

  • Gasoline sales tax

  • Motor vehicle related taxes

The city of Columbia sits on $246 million in cash, not including retirement funds, as of the last Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.