10 JUN 09: Tighter Here, Looser There
Based on Tuesday's Columbus Council meeting, it appears the area economy has made a sea change. Phenix City now has all the economic growth, while Columbus does not. After all, only Phenix City was able to afford giving the city council a raise.
Columbus Council unanimously approved a fiscal 2010 budget, which Mayor Jim Wetherington described as tight and cautious. For city employees it means no layoffs, no furloughs, no raises - and 100 new police officers, to say no to all sorts of other things.
The Columbus city budget totals nearly $235 million. By my math, that comes to more than $1,200 per resident -- but there are things you can do to reduce your share of the bill. We single guys know enough free samples at supermarkets can make a nice lunch, free of sales taxes.
One city tax will go up in Columbus, under the upcoming budget. Councilors voted Tuesday to increase the city hotel-motel tax to eight percent in August -- or as the staff at Hotels.com is calling it, "Bonus Time."
But here's the thing: Mayor Jim Wetherington admits he's asked city employees to take fewer trips to conferences to save money. So I guess staff members will stay in town and take "retreats" to local motels - then be encouraged to stay overnight, sleep off that big dinner and make the city extra money.
I didn't realize until I checked the budget breakdown that Columbus has a "Paving Fund." That's what the $13.7 million fund for street improvements is called -- and it's admittedly a nicer name than the "Pothole Pot."
While the Columbus city budget doesn't lay off anyone, it does include money for several new positions. The City Manager's office will have a "Citizen's Service Technician." Does that mean the 311 hotline breaks down all the time?
One position not listed in the main budget ordinance is a director of the new "Office of Crime Prevention." Mayor Wetherington told the evening news he still has to figure out how much to pay that person. He certainly doesn't want it to look like he stole a top candidate....
The Columbus city budget also includes $200,000 for the city to take over the city recycling program, as a long-term contract with Goodwill Industries expires. A recycling center of some kind is planned on Victory Drive - perfect for dropping off styrofoam "to-go" boxes from the nice new restaurants.
By the way, a close look at Tuesday's agenda indicated the newly improved public entrance to the Government Center may not be ready until around Labor Day. So if someone complains to you the city's "been giving me the run-around all summer long," it might not be an exaggeration.
Last see what else happened, as the heat and humidity climbed on Tuesday:
+ A morning jog took me past the Columbus Civic Center, which is hosting the United Methodist Church's annual conference for South Georgia. An organization with St. Andrews in its name was outside, seemingly selling balloons. I never knew Andrew was the patron saint of helium.
(Then there were the signs pointing to "reserved parking" for the United Methodist conference. I assume the Pentecostal and charismatic members parked in a different area.)
+ A U.S. Transportation Department report revealed flights to the Columbus Airport arrive late 30.8 percent of the time. That's a higher percentage than arrivals in Atlanta, Birmingham, Montgomery and Savannah. So Columbus isn't really that much slower - Atlantic Southeast Airlines only makes it seem that way.
+ The Russell County School Board voted 4-2 NOT to renew the contract of Superintendent Yvette Richardson beyond next June. Board member Chuck Johnson told WXTX "News at Ten" he had problems with Richardson driving "home to Birmingham" every weekend. At least that's an improvement from the late Jack Russell, and his drives to Biloxi casinos.
+ Fort Benning Commandant Michael Barbero gave a series of exit interviews to TV reporters. Barbero admitted he's not sure where he's going, after the change of command in two weeks. Some members of the Third Brigade probably wish they were in the same situation....
+ U.S. News and World Report magazine rated Auburn one of the ten "best cities to live." So what does Auburn have that Columbus doesn't? We have a state park. We have nice golf courses. We have.... oh wait. The magazine seemed really impressed by Auburn's football fans.
+ Instant Message to Adam Churchwell of Premier Martial Arts: I heard your comment on WLTZ that children are "learning a skill" at your summer camp. I never thought of karate and tae kwon do as skills - but I suppose they could come in handy, if the meat tenderizer runs out at a restaurant.
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