Columbia opts out of regional planning commission

Remaining members left to plan without presence of Mid-Missouri's largest city.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Columbia will save about $30,000 in fiscal 2010 by dropping its membership in the Mid-Missouri Regional Planning Commission. The decision, however, deals a blow to the group because Columbia is the biggest city in the region and was the commission’s largest dues-paying member.

The Mid-Missouri Regional Planning Commission is a voluntary association of local governments covering Boone, Callaway, Cole, Cooper, Howard and Moniteau counties. It provides professional assistance such as grant writing and planning assistance to members. Members pay dues equal to 30 cents per resident. That would bring Columbia’s 2010 dues to $29,752, which is more than Jefferson City and Boone County — the second- and third-largest contributors — combined.

Ed Siegmund, executive director of the commission, said Columbia joined the planning commission about five years ago after choosing not to join when the group was reorganized in 1999. City Manager Bill Watkins said last week that Columbia simply doesn't need the services the group offers.

The sentiment among the remaining members is a mix of disappointment and hope of continued collaboration with Columbia. The commission, in the wake of Columbia’s departure, is exploring new policies regarding cities or counties in the region that pay no dues.

The question is “what services we should and should not provide for nonpaying members,” Siegmund said.

Gabe Craighead, commission chairman and a Callaway County commissioner, said he is disappointed but understands the difficult budgeting decisions Columbia must make.

“We are on lean financials, and so is Columbia. It’s disappointing that they’re no longer a part of it,” Craighead said, adding that the planning commission is looking at different strategies for dealing with the lost revenue. One option is to dip into reserve funds.

Membership in the planning commission is most beneficial to smaller cities and counties that don’t have professional grant writers on their staffs. The commission can fulfill that role and help those communities win grant money they otherwise would not get.

“Small cities usually need help with improvements. … MMRPC really helps the smaller cities. …We can’t let down the other communities that work with us,” Craighead said.

Boone County Southern District Commissioner Karen Miller offered examples.

“They have prepared a grant for the county for a low-income neighborhood, Leisure Hills, to get sewer connections," she said. "They did a Main Street plan for Ashland.”

Commission members who spoke with the Missourian said they’re interested in continuing to work with Columbia. At an upcoming board meeting, they plan to discuss whether Columbia, or any other community, could be charged a one-time fee if it seeks help from the group.

Steve Rasmussen, city administrator of Jefferson City and chair of the commission’s Budget Committee, sees no way around working with Columbia, the largest city in the region.

“I understand the difficulties balancing the budget,” he said. “It is also important to our citizens to operate regionally.”

Rasmussen argued that the work being done by the commission affects not only small communities but the entire six-county region. He noted two specific things the organization has done for the region, including the creation of Hazardous Mitigation and Regional Homeland Security plans, both of which were required by the federal government. It was the commission, he said, that applied for the federal grant money to complete those projects.

“It’s difficult for us to (work regionally) with the largest city in the region not sitting at the table,” Rasmussen said. “We’re disappointed that they were not able to work it into their budget. … We hope they can work it into their budget next year.”

Miller agreed.

“As a region we are all in this together. I hope to have the opportunity to meet with council members and discuss the issue face to face in the future,” she said. “I know finances are tough for all governments right now, but we need to stick together. Columbia wouldn't be what they are today if it weren't for the work-force, shopping habits, health-care needs in the region.”


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