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Columbia Missourian

Committee meets to promote water bond

By Michael Gibney
September 30, 2008 | 8:01 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — A mayoral committee plans to spend $10,000 on advertising and other efforts to promote a $38.9 million bond issue for proposed renovations to Columbia's water system. The main goals of the committee, which met on Monday for the first time, are to publicize the Nov. 4 bond issue and secure voter approval through advertising and direct mail.

The promotional committee is separate from city government and will raise private funds to finance its efforts. The committee is co-chaired by Kee Groshong and former mayor Mary McCollum.

Mayor Darwin Hindman, who appointed the committee, and City Manager Bill Watkins were present at the meeting along with a representative of the city's Water and Light Department.

"The city can present the facts, and we'll help with putting together the reasons why people should vote for its approval," Groshong said.

If approved, the renovations would increase distribution flow, replace old mains and improve the overall performance of the system. The $38.9 million would be paid by utility customers over six years through a number of rate increases.

Water and Light representative Floyd Turner told the committee that some of the mains near Broadway are more than 50 years old and that responding to an emergency break is more expensive than fixing them on the bond's proposed timeline.

"Doing the work is not an option," Groshong said. "The way we fund it is an option."

Supporting the work with bonds allows for costs to be spread out over time, according to information distributed at the meeting. Utilities generally use bonds to finance large-scale projects.

"The maintenance needs to be done," committee treasurer Jeff McLellan said. "Right now it's cheap, and we want to do it while rates are low."

The committee expressed concerns that the national economic climate could affect the vote.

"We're battling the perception that this is money out of Columbia's pockets," committee member Lili Vianello said. She said that generating the funds for future repairs would cost much more in the long run.

"We want to encourage people to become familiar with the issue and if they are, they will want to vote 'yes,'" Groshong said.

The last bond issue was passed in 2003, resulting in the funding of a treatment plant expansion and a new pumping station. A small percentage of the 2003 bond also financed some distribution system improvements.