Mail ballots go out for downtown Columbia sales tax

Residents of the district will decide the issue by Nov. 8
Wednesday, October 26, 2011 | 7:51 p.m. CDT; updated 11:35 p.m. CDT, Monday, October 31, 2011

COLUMBIA — If you live in the Downtown Community Improvement District, there's a good chance someone has been by to knock on your door and talk about the upcoming vote on a new half-cent sales tax on retail sales downtown.

Friends of Downtown Columbia, a group formed by the district's board of directors, is trying to make sure the limited number of registered voters in the area vote yes on the tax.


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The election won't require voters to leave their homes and stand in line on Nov. 8. Instead, ballots were sent out Wednesday through the mail and must be returned to the county clerk by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Deb Sheals, a member of the district's board, sees the sales tax as a way of competing with other shopping districts in the city.

"This (sales tax) just puts us on par with places like Walmart," Sheals said, referring to retail centers in the city that are in transportation development districts. "There are several major shopping areas (in Columbia) that add an extra half-cent sales tax."

The tax is estimated to bring the district an additional $300,000 in 2012. Members of the district's board would like to see the money go toward a variety of projects.

"One of the things we want is Wi-Fi downtown," Sheals said. "Another thing that has had pretty strong support is recycling."

Fellow board member Skip Walther believes the projects that have been discussed would be good for the whole city.

"This has the potential to greatly enhance services and programs in downtown Columbia that should benefit everybody," Walther said.

The sample ballot, available at the Boone County website, details possible uses for the money, including sidewalk snow removal, street and sidewalk enhancements, street fairs, street musicians and curbside vendors.

Despite these examples, money raised by the tax doesn't necessarily have to go toward those projects.

"We tried to make it clear that those are examples and not necessarily commitments," Walther said. "It's more of a road map for what we want to do with the money."

Decisions about the ultimate use of the tax revenue would be made by the district's board, Sheals said.

"It all would have to be downtown projects," Sheals said. "It’s the same fiscal responsibility that the (Special Business District) had; it’s just a bigger budget"

In order to finance the election, the board created the Friends of Downtown Columbia. Carrie Gartner, executive director of the board, estimates the group would need $10,000 to properly promote the ballot issue.

Of that money, about $2,500 would pay for the election. The group also will pay Progressive Political Partners $4,000 to lead a campaign effort.

Representatives of the consulting group spent about eight hours going door to door Saturday campaigning for the cause. They will continue to campaign moving forward, Gartner said.

Despite the relatively short time until ballots are due, Walther hopes the efforts will pay off.

"Although this is a relatively short campaign, because the number of voters is relatively small, we think we’ll have an impact on the election," Walther said.

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Mark Flakne October 26, 2011 | 9:14 p.m.

Eapen Thampy's eloquent response to Skip Walther follows. I couldn't agree more.

"Unfortunately, Skip, I will be voting against this measure. There are a couple reasons. First, I have no reason to trust the CID or the city government, who have repeatedly lied to citizens about their previous “improvements” particularly the surveillance cameras that now are used for live surveillance of businesses like the Blue Fugue, where I conduct a variety of politically-oriented work protected by the First Amendment. Second, I would rather that the city government try to reduce taxes on people trying to spend money in Columbia, not raise them. Third, while I do see a need for street, alley, and sidewalk enhancements, I’d rather allow private property owners more reign to administer their property as they see fit under the law. Fourth, I see no reason why the government should provide WiFi, build smartphone applications, or promote events; this should be properly the purview of private industry and entrepreneurial endeavor and the city government has no core competency in administering or facilitating it. Finally, I see no reason to create another city bureaucracy at a time where public sector compensation arrangements are crushing municipalities.

As an addendum, I see the need for another police officer or fire company in the First Ward, which I see as a much more valuable use of public funds than this CID. I’m also pretty angry at the new “taxi stands” downtown, which seem to be a nifty new way that the city has found to raise revenue by towing students and downtown employees so that the towing company can make a buck."

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin October 26, 2011 | 10:26 p.m.

With all the stresses these downtown merchants are under -- from high rents to acres of pay parking (that just jumped in price) to Orwellian cameras to oodles of governing committees like the CID, why they would want to impose any additional taxes is beyond me.

How another tax is going to make any business more competitive also defies logic.

What it all will do, however, is add extra incentives to the future paydays of billionaire barons like Stan Kroenke.

He has quietly but considerably expanded his downtown holdings in recent years, and is clearly waiting for others to pay his redevelopment tab, in the form of TIFs and now, more taxes to bring in goodies like WiFi that private enterprise should furnish on its own.

I can just see the new promo: Shop in downtown Columbia, where you'll get the pleasure of paying for parking; being watched by cameras; paying more taxes; and paying higher parking tickets should you forget to feed the meter.

Doesn't sound more competitive to me (though I'm sure it will pass -- wink wink you know who).

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield October 27, 2011 | 8:14 a.m.

I agree that a lot of The District's current and past initiatives are silly, but let's get real about one thing: At a lot of other places (e.g., the mall, Grindstone), you pay for parking. You just don't notice it because it's hidden in the extra sales taxes rather than in the form of a meter you have to feed.

Some people also whine about having to walk a few blocks from a parking garage or on-street spot to a downtown business. Next time you're at the mall, count the number steps from your car to your destination inside. Unless you're shopping at one of the anchors, the hike probably will be just as far as if you were shopping downtown, if not farther.

(Report Comment)
John M. Nowell, III October 27, 2011 | 9:39 a.m.

The biggest problem with downtown Columbia is that the owners and employees arrive prior to opening and park as close to their place of business as possible. They fill up most of the available meter spaces, and feed the meters all day long.

Until they resolve this issue nothing else matters. It's basic business 101, give your customers the close parking.

(Report Comment)

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