Columbus City Council approves budget changes, more funds available for pressing needs
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COLUMBUS CITY COUNCIL

Columbus City Council approves budget changes, more funds available for pressing needs

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Columbus City Council passed an amendment to its 2020 capital projects budget that will ease the city’s debt and fund more prominent needs but will delay other planned work for at least another year.

The council approved the amendment, 5-1, at its Feb. 17 meeting at City Hall. Council Member Ian Gray voted no. Mayor Mike Thom said the budget adjustments help prepare the city for more pressing needs this year, while also saving money for repairs to the city pool. A leak was discovered in the pool last summer, prompting Columbus’ department of public works to close it a week early. The pool is being monitored and the city will likely find the root cause of the leak after snow melts this spring.

Thom said it’s difficult to estimate costs for repairs at this point.

“We don’t know if $15,000 will cover the cost of the pool,” Thom said. “It could be $80,000.”

Through the budget amendments, the city will also address a flooding issue at Second Ward Creek. The creek typically floods every year, sending water through Fireman’s Park. An area near the deer pen is especially affected and the city closed a portion of the park last fall due to flooding.

In addition, the city will spend about $160,000 on a new street sweeper. Interim City Administrator Dave Berner said the city will save $15,000 on the sweeper from an original quote.

“With purchasing the new street sweeper and with addressing the flooding problem at Second Ward Creek, it goes along with the city’s plan to mitigate storm water runoff,” Berner said. “You’re having less materials going into gutters and flowing into nearby lakes and streams.”

Berner said the city is in the first phase of a storm water improvement plan.

The Columbus Area Senior Center also needs a new roof. The budget adjustments will help fund roof repairs this year. Berner said it’s vital to address some facility needs this year, but delay others until the city develops a comprehensive plan, perhaps in the summer. City officials are placing work on its Roadmap 2050 project on hold until a new city administrator is hired.

“That will give you time to look at long-range planning,” Berner said. “The new administrator and the city is going to be dealing with some aging infrastructure. You’re also going to have some economic development opportunities and to be in a position to take advantage of them, you have to have debt capacity to do that.”

This year’s budget will also fund upgraded radio equipment for the Columbus Police Department, along with two new air conditioning units at the station. Lt. Darrell Ward said getting digital radios will help police communicate with the Columbia County Sheriff’s Department and other local and state agencies.

Columbus is also saving funds for the Hibbard Street reconstruction project. The road work will begin in May and should be completed by October. However, due to the budget changes, additional street work, such as mill and overlay, will be delayed until next year.

But, Berner said the new budget does address more important road work concerns.

“You have a very significant improvement going forward here,” Berner said. “You’re resurfacing almost a mile and out of 27 miles of streets in the city, that’s about 5 percent.”

Berner said the city could receive additional funding through a grant from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. He said the city will find out if it qualifies in March.

“If you get the grant you could come back and reassess some of these projects,” Berner said.

Gray asked if it was necessary to eliminate a large portion of road funding from the budget.

“Is there any way to include some of these projects?” Gray said. “Can we do it?”

Thom said while the city can’t fit everything on its to-do list, the budget trimming allows for more flexibility, especially if the city needed to borrow money. The mayor cautioned too much borrowing could affect the city’s credit rating.

ADA entryway at Pavilion

The Council gave the Columbus Historic Landmarks and Preservation Commission the OK to secure bids to install a handicap-accessible entryway at Fireman’s Park Pavilion.

Also at the meeting, the city approved $798,000 to replace an influent screen at the wastewater treatment plant. According to City Engineer Jason Lietha, the current screen was installed in 1984. Staabe Construction Corporation was awarded the contract.

With Hibbard Street work on tap, the city will bring back a sewer lateral replacement program. The program offers residents money to replace old, aging lead pipes running to their homes. Crews usually discover old pipes while digging underground during road reconstruction.

The city has used the program in the past and allocated $1,800 for each eligible resident. This year, Columbus has $50,400 in its budget for the program and all qualified property owners are eligible to apply.

Administrator candidates coming

Berner said the top five candidates for city administrator will visit Columbus Feb. 28 to meet city staff. On Feb. 29, the city will complete a round of interviews with the candidates at City Hall.

“Following that, there will be discussion and I’m assuming it will be pared down to maybe the top two finalists,” Berner said.

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