COLUMBIA, Mo 6/14/18 (Beat Byte)
-- In just six months, Columbia officials have added nearly $5 million
to the city's pooled cash accounts at the Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS), the latest financial reports show
From September 2017 to March 2018, the account balance increased $4.7 million, from $321,264,778 to $325,946,027 (see chart below, from Interim 6-month 2018 Financial Report).
City Councilmen Ian Thomas
, Karl Skala
, and Matt Pitzer
have joined city manager Mike Matthes
and his allies to downplay the increases, instead urging voters and other Council members that higher property and Internet taxes are urgently needed
to boost police and fire protection, as online commerce supposedly cuts into brick-and-mortar sales taxes.
"A misleading mantra about a '$300 million Swiss Bank Account' is coming out of an 'echo chamber' involving the Columbia Heartbeat, Police Officers' Association, and Professional Firefighters," Thomas announced in his email newsletter. "The purpose appears to be to undermine the credibility of our local government, and this misinformation is equally troubling to me."
On the other side of the Swiss Bank debate are city employee associations and local Realtors, who have called for a State of Missouri performance audit
, not the first time community members have voiced skepticism about the way City Hall handles money.
One of the city's own, retired public works supervisor Bill Weitkemper started an audit petition drive over four years ago, in March 2014
. Health concerns prompted Weitkemper -- who worked for the city nearly forty years -- to drop the effort
, but to this day he maintains the need for a full, complete, impartial audit of the city's books.
Emerging as Matthes' chief media ally, the Columbia Daily Tribune
printed one story
and three editorials
last month attacking audit proponents
and the Columbia Heart Beat. Nonetheless, the Trib's editorial board admitted the Swiss Bank account's existence, something that for years city officials, while not outright denying, refused to confirm.
"Here’s a fact: the city of Columbia has more than $300 million in its pooled cash account
," the print newspaper's two editors, Charles Westmoreland and Matt Sanders, opined last month
. "Here’s another fact: all but about $3 million is spoken for. These facts don’t fit the narrative of some Columbia residents. They’d have you believe that for decades city officials have been sitting on piles of cash, swimming in it like Scrooge McDuck
, while raising taxes and starving the budgets of first responders."
The UBS account's immense size -- nearly $3,000 for every man, woman, and child in Columbia
-- has added urgency to the renewed audit push, with support from Columbia Mayor Brian Treece
Pooled from each city department, the tax-and-ratepayer cash is invested in short term, liquid securities, making the balance subject to some volatility.
At any given time during the year, investment gains and losses can boost or shrink the account, giving rise to another important question (among many): Is this vast pool of taxpayer and ratepayer money invested at its highest and best return, or should it be back in the pockets of tax-and-rate payers?