The City of Columbia has been fortunate to secure funding through grants for a number of capital projects in recent years, including Main Street Streetscape (Phases 2 & 3), the Bolm-Schuhkraft Connector Trail, and Quarry Road Phase 1 and Phase 2- which included the roundabout. In fact, since 2015, more than $9.7 million has been spent improving infrastructure throughout the City. Of that amount, $5,475,500 or 56% has been paid through grants. Between 2023-25, there are an additional 8 infrastructure projects programmed, totaling $5,541,000. Of this amount, the City has already secured $2,559,000 in funding through grants, and has applied for an additional $1 million through State programs.
Grants are becoming more competitive in nature, and there is no guarantee alternative funding of this nature will always be available for future projects.
Additionally, there are community needs beyond infrastructure detailed above:
- Public Safety Complex – Current facility, located at 1020 N. Main St. is outdated, poses several operational challenges, and is a repurposed building not specifically built for this use. Furthermore, Columbia Emergency Medical Services (EMS) utilizes a FEMA single-wide mobile home for crew quarters. Approximate cost for replacement $15,000,000-$20,000,000
- Sewage Treatment Plant - Current facility is nearing end of useful life, and is one of the (if not the) largest “lagoon” style plants still operational in the State of Illinois. Illinois Environmental Protection Agency mandates a new “Class I” treatment plant (dictated by population) be operational by 2035. Approximate cost for replacement: $25,000,000
- Water Treatment Plant – The City’s agreement with Illinois American Water (IAW) will terminate in 2028. The City is optimistic it will either 1) negotiate an extension with IAW, while keeping cost increases to a minimum, or 2) identify alternative water supply options, while keeping cost increases to a minimum. The future with IAW is questionable, as IAW currently has a 30% rate increase pending with the Illinois Commerce Commission. All options are currently being evaluated, including 1) purchasing water from the City of St. Louis or another municipality, 2) partnering with other local governmental units to construct a regional water treatment facility, or 3) constructing a City-owned and operated water treatment facility. Approximate cost for construction: $20,000,000
While the City's utility needs may be addressed through user rate increases, when compared to 43 other municipal water/sewer utilities in Southern Illinois, an April 2022 study found Columbia's rates are, on average, 11.89% lower than comparable entities. The City Council intends to minimize any cost increases on Columbia's property owners.
As demonstrated through its actions, the City Council strives to be fiscally responsible stewards of public tax dollars. However, the uncertainty of the long-term availability of grants, as well as the magnitude of projects on the horizon pose significant management challenges. Home rule enables the City to access additional revenue streams not solely derived from residents and property owners.