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.
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.