Five ideas: What are your thoughts on these items in the news this week?

Saturday, June 21, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:51 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Energized for environment

Environmental efficiency and sustainable energy were common threads in local news this week.

Fourteen teenagers with Impact Generation of Kansas City made headlines when they came to Columbia and weatherized a dozen local homes and helped low-income residents swap out old air conditioners for new ones. The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry also got into the act by hosting a utility and energy conference Tuesday. People from utility companies, universities and government discussed Missouri’s need for a new energy strategy. Presenters agreed MU will play a big role and highlighted its research on biodiesel byproducts and new techniques for cooling high-power electronics.

Columbia Public Schools hopped on the green machine by breaking ground on an Eco Schoolhouse at Grant Elementary School. The building will replace a trailer classroom damaged in a December fire. It will include tubular skylights, a rainwater collection system, solar panels and energy-efficient heating and cooling. Mayor Darwin Hindman called the plan “innovative and impressive.”

Finally, the city announced that the recently renovated Wabash Station bus depot won certification this week from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

What steps are you taking to save energy and live a more environmentally friendly lifestyle?

Road rage

A 4-3 vote by the City Council on Monday ended a long debate about whether to create a northern way out of the Concorde Office and Industrial Plaza along Lemone Industrial Boulevard. The council approved the extension of Maguire Boulevard, which lies just east of Lemone, to Stadium Boulevard.

Supporters said the plan would remedy traffic and safety concerns and encourage development of vacant and under-used space in the plaza. Opponents, however, worried that two required bridges would damage the north and south forks of Grindstone Creek. Proponents countered that there is already a negative effect on the environment caused by the cars of roughly 2,000 employees who sit idle in traffic and burn fuel for as long as 45 minutes.

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala also argued against the project, saying the “public-private” label given to its financing is misleading. The arrangement calls for the city to chip in $5 million for the bridges and for the Stadium-63 Transportation Development District to pay for part of the road. Developer Bob Lemone also contributed before his death. Skala, however, noted that the Stadium-63 money will come from sales taxes.

Is the Maguire Boulevard extension an appropriate use of city money? Why or why not?

Taxing idea

The Special Business District and the Central Columbia Association are looking at a special sales tax as a way to help finance priority projects downtown. A consulting agency hired by the two groups has suggested they consolidate and create a community improvement district, similar to a Transportation Development District, which would have the authority to collect a sales tax in addition to the property taxes and business license fees that make up the groups’ revenue now.

A downtown community improvement district that levied a half-cent sales tax on purchases downtown could generate about $500,000 per year, the consultants estimated. It would take several steps to create such a district, though. First, 50 percent of property owners within its proposed boundaries would have to sign a petition supporting the move. The City Council then would have to adopt an ordinance establishing the district. Any taxes would have to win the approval of voters who live within the district.

What changes would you like to see downtown, and would you be willing to pay an extra sales tax to pay for them?

Flood of freshmen

As of June 16, MU stopped accepting freshman applications for fall enrollment.

If the current figure remains the same, this will be MU’s largest freshman class. According to the MU News Bureau, more than 5,860 freshmen have paid an initial enrollment deposit for the fall semester, an increase of almost 900 students from the year before. MU officials say the tide of freshmen could be a result of successful recruiting, MU’s academic reputation, renovations of campus facilities and the success of the MU football program.

But the increase could pose problems. MU Residential Life is short of on-campus housing and plans to house students in nearby Campus Lodge and Campus View apartment complexes and to reopen Cramer Hall as a residence hall instead of using it as office space. If enrollment continues to rise, MU will need to add more faculty. This could be a challenge under the current Compete Missouri plan, which reallocates $7 million to raise faculty salaries and includes a strategic hiring process that calls for leaving many vacant positions unfilled and to hire only where necessary.

How will increasing enrollment at MU affect town-gown relationships?

School of hard knocks

In a 5-1 vote, the Columbia Board of Education approved a budget Thursday night for the 2008-09 school year that will not fund regularly scheduled salary increases for district employees.

The critical vote came after months of community discussion and debate about the district’s bleak economic picture. The board cut more than $5 million from next year’s budget, with the hope that voters would approve a 54-cent tax levy increase in April. But when voters said no, district administrators got their budget knives out again, eventually cutting about $8 million from the budget.

Superintendent Phyllis Chase, who recommended against funding the salary schedule, announced she would take a 10 percent pay cut of $20,034 and that other administrators would also see smaller salaries. The budget also calls for the loss of almost 84 full-time equivalent jobs.

Did Chase and the school board make the right choices? What can the school district do now to strengthen morale for the year ahead?

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