The "Pooled Cash Account:" Filtering the Facts from Myth
May 6, 2018
Over recent months, there has been quite a bit of discussion (mostly online) about the City's "Pooled Cash Account."
This is essentially a single umbrella checking account, through which the City's several dozen different Departments process all of their financial transactions. The question under discussion is whether this account is used by City staff and/or Council members to hide taxpayer funds for nefarious or illegal purposes. And the answer is "no" with a couple of caveats.
Local advocate and commentator Chip Cooper has studied the claims in depth and written about his research in the Columbia Daily Tribune. I recommend you read both of these articles, the second of which is published in todays newspaper:
- August 15, 2017: Rumors of city’s financial status overstated
- May 6, 2018: Put up or shut up about Columbia’s ‘Swiss Bank Account’
City Council has also held several work sessions focused on the "Pooled Cash Account," and it is clear to me that this is part of a perfectly normal system for managing the thousands of daily financial transactions conducted by a large institution like the City of Columbia. The daily balance fluctuates around $300 million but, as Chip Cooper explains, almost all of this money is restricted to very specific purposes defined in law and approved by City Council and voters.
However, at any given time, about 1-2% of the balance is unrestricted, and this is where my "caveats" come in:
- In 2010, the City spent $500,000 to buy an old office building for IBM as part of an "incentives" package to lure the company to establish a data center in Columbia
- And, in 2013, $3 million was used to purchase land for "shovel-ready" economic development projects
I have serious concerns about these transactions, both of which occurred before I joined the City Council. It is evident that the perceived need to entice investor-owned corporations to "set up shop" in Columbia led to a lack of transparency and even outright secrecy. I believe it is very unhealthy for public government to engage in such activities, and we run the risk of losing the taxpayers' trust. I am also skeptical of the economic benefit claims of these incentives.
At the same time, as Chip Cooper points out, 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. The purpose appears to be to undermine the credibility of our local government, and this misinformation is equally troubling to me.
I believe in truth and transparency, and I encourage you to dig deep into these issues and ask challenging questions before forming an opinion.
Composting Workshop and Food Waste Drop-Off
In coordination with International Compost Awareness Week, the City of Columbia is holding a composting workshop and one-day food waste drop-off on Tuesday, May 8 at Capen Park, 1600 Capen Park Drive.
The workshop starts at 6:00 pm, and I will be there to read a City Council Proclamation in support of International Compost Awareness Week. More than 17 percent of the material entering Columbia's landfill is food waste - about 34,000 tons, last year. The direct cost of disposing material into the landfill is $52 per ton, which means Columbia and Boone County residents spent approximately $1,768,000 in 2017 when this excess food could have been diverted to hungry families or local food production. If restaurants, schools, churches, offices and households would make a conscious effort to only purchase food that is needed and donate or compost what remains, it could reduce Columbia's carbon footprint, improve social equity and fertilize gardens.
Residents may drop off food waste between 8:00 am and 8:00 pm on May 8 at Capen Park. Accepted food waste includes: fruits, vegetables, meat, bones, dairy, soups, sauces, bread, pasta, coffee grounds and other food items. Material will be added to the City's Compost Operation, so it’s important to exclude both plastic and paper products such as bags, plates, cups, utensils and other non-food items. "Certified Compostable" and "bioplastic" products will also not be accepted at this time.
While composting can be done at home, this event will determine if residents are interested in community composting, similar to the Recycling Drop-off Centers. The event will also help the Solid Waste Utility understand the benefits and challenges of offering a food waste collection site. Please remember that this is a one-day event and future collections will be determined by interest and success of this event.
Rock the Community
Mark your calendar for this year's Rock The Community Festival which will take place on Saturday, June 2nd in Douglass Park. This is an empowerment-focused neighborhood music event, which will include a job fair and an emphasis on positive relations between the community and police officers.
Here are a couple of media reports from previous years:
- Event looks to promote better community relations with police
- Rock the Community aims to improve trust between police and youth
Feedback on Road Safety and Growth
Thank you to everyone who has provided feedback on the idea of a traffic calming program for freeways and arterials, and to those of you have responded to the "Planning for Growth" survey. The survey is still open:
... And I will share the results of all of this community input in my next newsletter.
Upcoming Constituent Conversations will be held today and on Sunday May 20th, 2-4pm at Dunn Bros. Coffee. Dates for Constituent Conversations are always available at my web site.