Business, property owners discuss proposed downtown special sales tax district

Wednesday, February 18, 2009 | 10:59 p.m. CST; updated 11:59 p.m. CST, Wednesday, February 18, 2009

COLUMBIA — Downtown Columbia business and property owners met three separate times Wednesday to discuss the proposed Downtown Columbia Community Improvement District, or CID.

The proposed CID would raise downtown sales tax by one half cent to provide funding for downtown improvements.

City services currently are funded by the downtown Special Business District, or SBD, which raises about $200,000 per year. This money is allocated to beautification, economic development and historic preservation.

The CID would replace the existing SBD, raising the sales tax but keeping property taxes the same for those in the district. The added sales tax would increase revenue for downtown improvements, generating $450,000 to $600,000.

This extra funding could provide new economic development programs, advanced marketing of downtown events, public relations to improve the regional image of downtown, street and landscaping enhancements, and city cleaning and maintenance. In addition, the district could fund more downtown ambassadors to aid the Columbia Police Department and the installation of security cameras.

“We need a more visible presence to make it a cleaner and safer downtown,” said Brad Segal, president of the Progressive Urban Management Associates hired to put together a CID plan for Columbia a year ago.

CIDs and similar programs are seen in many downtown areas in the state. In Columbia, some developments such as Columbia Mall and Walmart shopping centers already levy an extra half-cent sales tax because they are in transportation development districts.

“It’s very rare that you’re not at the same level as your competition,” Segal said.

Ray Suttles, general manager of the new downtown business Ingredient, who has experience with other shopping districts, said he was surprised that downtown has a lower sales tax than places like Columbia Mall. “We’re just raising it to what the outsiders are already doing,” Suttles said.

At the meetings, residential rental property owners were largely opposed to the establishment of the new sales-tax district, because their property tax would increase to the current SBD property tax if they are annexed into the CID.

Business and property owners also voiced concern that the proposed 10-year lifespan of the CID was too short. A suggestion to increase the length to 20 years to avoid repeating the process of approval carried more favor among the group. Instead of starting from scratch after 10 years, there would be a re-evaluation every five years.

The approval process includes three steps. The first is a petition that would require more than 50 percent of property owners signatures. Secondly, the district must then be approved by the City Council. Finally, if the council approves it, residents inside the proposed district then vote on the CID.


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