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WELCOME BACK: A recap of the summer's top stories

Thursday, August 18, 2011 | 12:17 a.m. CDT; updated 12:24 a.m. CDT, Thursday, August 18, 2011

If you've been away from Columbia and the news for the summer, here's a recap of what you've missed.

Short Street parking garage:

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With a fluctuating $7 million budget and a construction date delayed until November, debate surrounded the number of parking spaces and the architectural design of the Short Street parking garage, which will be built alongside that of The Broadway, the hotel meant to replace The Regency.

Mayor Bob McDavid vocalized his desire for the Short Street garage to match the skyline of the city – a cardinal rule of architectural design that he said was ignored during the construction of the Fifth and Walnut garage. Yet with a 6-story limit and 300 parking spaces, the Short Street garage will be a far cry from the 10 stories and 703 available spaces at the Fifth and Walnut garage.

First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt expressed concern regarding the drawbacks of a less ambitious design plan. He said he did not want the city to be limited by a smaller number of parking spaces in the North Village Arts District, a developing and bustling area of Columbia, as well as the proposed location of the new garage. Ideas concerning the environmentally friendly addition of solar panels and an appearance to compliment the new hotel as well as the garage’s future location in an artistic area of town also circulated during City Council meetings.

Parking meters/fines increase:

As of July 1, Columbia city-goers began paying twice as much to park downtown. In an attempt to raise $600,000 annually to finance a $9.2 million price tag for a new parking garage. City Council passed a bill that:

  • Doubles the fee at downtown street meters to 60 cents per hour from 30 cents per hour;
  • Increases the fee at MU to 75 cents per hour from 50 cents per hour;
  • Raises the cost of surface lot permits to $50 per month from $40 per month;
  • Establishes free parking on Saturdays in all city garages; and
  • Charges $35 per month for permits in the Fifth and Walnut garage from July 1 to Dec. 31.

Generally seen by council members as an effective means of financing the construction of Columbia’s numerous parking garages, the increased parking rates were a point of skepticism for some business owners. Fewer customers at local shops worried employees.

“There doesn't need to be another obstacle to people shopping downtown instead of in the big-box stores,” said Sarah Hardy, a former employee of The Butterfly Tattoo, a gift shop that used to be located on Ninth Street.

City’s feral cat ordinance:

The council passed an ordinance to help control the estimated population of 30,000 feral cats in Columbia. Unlike domestic cats, feral cats are born outside and revert to their wild instincts. After two years of revision and in response to maxed out space and resources at the Central Missouri Humane Society, the resolution requires individuals that are feeding or harboring feral cats to:

  • Spay and neuter all cats in a colony;
  • Trap and annually test the cats for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus;
  • Identify all trapped cats by tipping their ears and having a microchip inserted;
  • Provide rabies vaccinations to all cats, as well as any other state-required vaccinations or immunizations; and 
  • Take all reasonable steps to remove kittens from the colony after they have been weaned, place the kittens in homes or foster care and capture and spay the mother cat.

Yet the ordinance was not passed without contention. Christina McCullum, Spay, Neuter and Protect volunteer, said certain components of the resolution could be financially crippling, emphasizing the microchipping and annual disease testing. Funds required by the ordinance would be more effectively put to use on trap, neuter and release efforts, she said.

City ward reapportionment:

Over the summer, members of the Columbia Ward Reapportionment Committee were assigned to reconfigure ward lines in response to 2010 census figures. The new boundaries would balance the populations as well as the diversity of representation in the redrawn districts.

The committee proposed three maps as options for reapportionment: Trials A, B and D. Flaws were found with each, and the committee failed to reach an agreement on any single plan. Both Trials A and D proposed the eastward expansion of the First Ward. Committee member Michelle Gadbois said such an expansion would group traditionally Democratic voters in the same ward, thus “determining the political makeup of the council for the next 10 years.” Despite its simplicity and initial support, Trial B faced criticism concerning the elimination of a central city ward that would result from the extension of the First Ward. Since then, two additional plans have emerged.

The committee headed back to the drawing board to devise newly reapportioned districts and plans to collaborate with other city employees for more input.

Boone County Fairgrounds management:

After hosting another Boone County Fair, a new management structure for the Boone County Fairgrounds became an increasingly high priority for the county. A new management plan must be in place by the end of the year and will depend heavily on the county’s budget, effective Dec. 15.

The Boone County Fair Board and the Boone County Commission differed on the role and function of the future management. The new fair board should not operate for profit and should function as a service to the people as well as break even on its expenses and earnings, Boone County Fair Board president Harold Cunningham said. Yet Boone County Commissioner Ed Robb noted the board’s current inability to break even, mentioning that the board makes a profit off the Boone County Fair but loses several thousand dollars throughout the year.

Aside from deficit issues, the fairgrounds need repair – a project with a fee between $1.5 million and $2.5 million, which is too high a price tag for both the county and the fair board. The half-percent sales tax approved in June for the fairgrounds is expected to ease some, but not all, of the fairgrounds’ deficit burdens.

City budget cuts/bus service issues:

Despite a current ridership of more than 2 million passengers per year, the reservoir of savings stowed away for Columbia’s bus system will dry up by 2012 because of ongoing deficit issues.

Whether it’s by raising fares or spending less, City Manager Mike Matthes said the Public Transportation Fund has to come up with $600,000 to make it through fiscal year 2012. The July 29 budget proposal presented a series of bus service reductions and fare increases. For example, regular fares would increase to $1.50 from $1; student passes would jump to $100 from $60; discounted fares for the elderly and the disabled would go up to 75 cents from 50 cents; and the Thursday through Saturday service would be stopped.  The city must also find an additional $900,000 for public transportation by fiscal year 2013.

Matthes said that in addition to public hearings, a council work session is scheduled for Aug. 22 to further discuss the fate of Columbia’s public transportation.

Columbia reaction to Joplin tornado:

The May 22 tornado in Joplin claimed 8,000 homes, 500 businesses and 156 lives, becoming the deadliest United States twister in 60 years. Amid such devastation, Columbia geared up to help.

The Mid-Missouri chapter of the American Red Cross rounded up countless volunteers, and the Daniel Boone Little League baseball All-Stars left the field and headed to Joplin to distribute mattresses to Joplin residents. Of the 85 Task Force One members sent to relieve victims, three were Columbia firefighters. MU Health Care also sent two ambulances and prepared to dispatch two trailers stocked with enough medical supplies to treat 200 people.

The Columbia Board of Realtors collected shoe donations, and Schnucks raised an estimated $1,500 at a parking lot carnival complete with face painting and a dunking booth. Bleu Restaurant and Wine Bar, D. Rowe’s and Harpo’s held events to allow patrons to contribute to relief efforts.

Summer heat – break records, people cope:

Record high temperatures began as early as May this summer and extended into early August, with a heat index hovering between an oppressive 105 and 115 degrees. Staying cool involved the vital combination of water and air conditioning.

Summer campers sought shelter in air-conditioned pavilions to watch movies as opposed to outside playtime. Frequent sunscreen application and plenty of hydration provided minor relief from the sweltering temperatures.

In addition to experiencing a high demand for air conditioners and fans, Columbia hardware and home stores spent more money on water to hydrate the plants in their garden centers.

As of early August, five heat-related deaths were recorded in Missouri.

Columbia Star Dinner Train controversy:

The Columbia Star Dinner Train’s opening night was met with 14 protesters carrying signs displaying messages such as “I have wheels, will you subsidize me?” and “I would rather be on the dinner train.” The train’s lack of wheelchair accessibility combined with the $65,000 the business received in government funding spurred controversy.

The doorways and restrooms, originally built in the '30s and '40s, largely contributed to the train’s limitations, Greg Weber of the Central States Rail Associates said. The general manager of the Columbia Star Dinner Train hopes to have wheelchair accessibility within a year.

Missouri River flooding:

Abnormally high amounts of rain and melted snow from the north pushed the Missouri River’s water level to between 27 and 33 feet, keeping it steadily above its flood stage throughout much of the summer. Aside from the 52,000 sandbags and pumps positioned in Boone County towns along the river, Gov. Jay Nixon requested a federal emergency declaration as well as federal assistance in providing flood-fighting equipment and additional help in saving people and property.

Flooding resulted in the temporary closing of Cooper’s Landing, Terrible’s St. Jo Frontier Casino in St. Joseph, Lewis and Clark State Park and limited Amtrak services between Kansas City and St. Louis. Rising waters and failed levees spurred evacuations in northwest Missouri, including Atchison County, Phelps City, Watson and Langdon. Flooding affected an estimated 25 Missouri counties.

Cicadas:

Around May 11, thousands of cicadas crawled from the soil to climb trees, shed their skins and found mates – all while gracing Columbia with their infamous mind-numbing chorus. Before their deaths and eventual decay back into the ground where they'll remain for 13 years, the cicadas’ deafening buzz continued from early morning until dusk every day for weeks.

Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream attracted national attention from news outlets such as Time Magazine, MSNBC and NPR with its homemade cicada treat. Sparky’s employees collected the bugs from their backyards and brought them to work where they were boiled, covered in brown sugar and milk chocolate and mixed in a brown sugar- and butter-based ice cream. The concoction was met with an overwhelming demand — the first batch sold out the day before it was set to debut.

Yet the cicada ice cream’s success was short-lived. Because the proper preparation of cicadas for eating purposes is not addressed in the Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services’ food code, Sparky’s chose to stop making its seasonal treat.


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