Sales Tax funds are used to fund discretionary projects in the budget, so who better to determine how they’re used than those representing the public?
Historically, City department heads always assessed and determined projects to address with discretionary funds before getting final approval from the Columbus City Council. But always looking to improve the annual budget process, City Administrator Tara Vasicek opted this year to leave it in the hands of Mayor Jim Bulkley and the Columbus City Council to determine what should be prioritized early on in the process.
So, she sent out a quick survey to the mayor, Council President Beth Augustine-Schulte and council members Troy Hiemer, Ron Schilling, Hope Freshour, Charlie Bahr, Katherine Lopez, Prent Roth and Rich Jablonski. They were all asked to anonymously rank all discretionary capital improvement projects. Then, all the responses were compiled into a ranked master list.
The idea was that anonymous responses would allow everyone to say what they felt should be the priorities without any concern about what others would say or think, as well as to help City staff determine what needed to be addressed in the new fiscal year.
The initial overall ranked master list went as followed with the amount budgeted:
1. City Workforce/Affordable Housing Subdivision - $1 million
2. Downtown Improvements - $125,000
3. Centennial Park Restroom/Concession - $400,000
4. Downtown UPPR Grade Sep Study - $400,000
5. Wi-Fi in Public Spaces Phase 2 - $550,000
6. City-Owned Electronic Sign - $250,000
7. Master Trail (South Columbus 8th or 6th Street) - $500,000
8. Renovation of Parking Lot South of Columbus Community Building - $200,000
9. Memorial Stadium Study - $500,000
10. Splash Pad – Centennial Park - $350,000
11. Locker Room Renovations - $20,000
12. Lost Creek Parkway Traffic Control - $300,000
13. Learning Center Pro Shop Renovation - $55,000
14. Turf - $500,000
“The No. 1 was to get involved in housing. I was glad to see that ranked No. 1,” Vasicek said. [Learn more about the City’s plan to address local housing needs by reading the previously published story. You can do so by clicking here.] “That means the council and the mayor feel like that’s important. That was good.”
Council members said they appreciated the city administrator’s plan to get council members’ input early on in the process.
“I think it was a good idea, it’s the way it should be,” Councilman Ron Schilling said. “As members of council, we should have the opportunity to express needs specifically in areas we are interested in. It was an opportunity to see where we feel the need or where funding should go.”
“When Tara first proposed it, I thought it was a fantastic idea. I thought it was brilliant,” Lopez said. “It allows us to get a more hands-on feeling and movement on projects. The process of ranking was very seamless, I felt it worked really great.”
Vasicek said the top few ranked items on the master list fell almost perfectly in line with planning sessions done with council members and department heads earlier in the year, so that reaffirmed all the work done in those gatherings.
“There were a few surprises beyond that, but there are all good things included in the discretionary capital improvement budget,” Vasicek said.
Council members seemed pleased with the process. Some of them may have been surprised by how the rankings shaped out specifically, but thought it was fair.
“All in all, it was a very equitable process. It was nice to have a little more say in it,” Bahr said. “The City has got the best employees you could ask for. They do a great job. They are self-starters and know what they need to do.”
Schilling echoed that sentiment in a separate conversation.
“I really appreciate how this came out this year,” he said. “Everyone has got needs and it’s a matter of finding out everyone’s needs. It’s a process.”
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