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Downtown Columbia residents to vote on new sales tax

Friday, October 21, 2011 | 6:43 p.m. CDT; updated 11:36 p.m. CDT, Monday, October 31, 2011

COLUMBIA — Fewer than 1.5 percent of Columbia residents will decide whether people who shop or eat downtown will pay extra sales tax.

The half-cent sales tax, which the Downtown Community Improvement District proposed to the City Council more than 10 months ago, will be the subject of an election by mail that will begin early next week and end Nov. 8.

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Voter registration records show that there are 150 downtown residents who will be eligible to cast ballots, Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren said. Some of those voters might not be residents anymore.

"Some of the ballots will come back as undeliverable," Noren said.

Anybody who lives within the district and is eligible to vote in Boone County may update their registration and vote by 7 p.m. Nov. 8.

The Nov. 8 election date was set by the Community Improvement District board in August. The board had decided last week to postpone the election until June after learning it could not use district money to campaign for approval of the tax.

On Tuesday, however, the board voted to keep the Nov. 8 date. Getting an election date changed is a multistep process, and Carrie Gartner, the district's executive director, didn't want to waste time.

"We'd rather spend three weeks talking to voters than three weeks in front of a judge," Gartner said.

The election will not require voters in the district to go to a polling station on Nov. 8. Instead, they will receive ballots in the mail. Ballots must be returned by mail or in person to the clerk's office at the Roger B. Wilson Boone County Government Center.

The City Council approved the Community Improvement District on Feb. 7 after an initial petition was submitted two months prior that included signatures from a majority of property owners living within the district's boundaries.

The biggest difference between the Community Improvement District and the Special Business District it replaced is that the former can impose a special sales tax. The Special Business District was limited to levying property taxes.

The property tax, 47 cents on every $100 of assessed valuation, will stay the same for property owners because the board collected signatures from property owners approving the tax.

Projections provided by the Community Improvement District to the City Council earlier this year indicate the sales tax would generate an estimated $1.24 million over the next four years if it passes.

The district's budget for fiscal year 2012 currently totals $207,028. Projections provided by the Community Improvement District to the City Council earlier this year indicate that the sales tax would generate an estimated additional $1.24 million over the next four years if it passes.

The district has set up a website that informs residents of what a sales tax could do. While the district's board cannot promise where the tax money will go, the revenue likely would go toward:

  • Downtown beautification;
  • Technology and public information enhancements;
  • Business marketing and development assistance;
  • Event recruitment and promotion; and
  • Shopping, dining or entertaining enhancements

A major issue the district faces is campaign financing. The estimated cost comes out to as much as $10,000 and cannot be financed with district money.

The district has been doing "a lot of outreach," which includes the website, Gartner said. People have been going door to door educating downtown residents on the issue.

Despite the costs, Gartner said she knows the value of informing residents whose votes will decide the fate of the tax.

"Those are an important 150 people," Gartner said.


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