COLUMBIA — Twenty-five voters who live downtown voted to approve a new half-cent sales tax on all retail sales downtown — and the measure still passed by 10 votes.
Voters in the Downtown Community Improvement District approved a half-cent sales tax increase for all retail sales downtown. The tax, which passed with a vote of 25 to 15, will go into effect April 1.
The ballots were sent by mail on Oct. 26 to 118 registered voters who live in downtown Columbia, Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren said. Voters had until 7 p.m. Tuesday to deliver the ballots to the clerk's office.
City officials estimate the tax will generate about $300,000 per year initially, and increase as it remains in effect.
The ballot listed the following as potential uses for the money:
- Downtown beautification: Examples included street, alley and sidewalk enhancements, sidewalk snow removal and recycling.
- Technology and public information enhancements: Examples included District-wide Wi-Fi service and smartphone applications for event and product information.
- Business marketing and development assistance: Examples included downtown promotion and entrepreneurial assistance.
- Event recruitment and promotion: Examples included street fairs, concerts and specialty markets.
- Shopping, dining or entertaining enhancements: Examples included sidewalk cafes, street musicians and curbside vendors.
While the community improvement district isn't required to spend the tax money on those endeavors, district board members Skip Walther and Deb Sheals said previously the board would use these as a "road map" for the money.
Walther was happy with the result.
"I think it's nothing but good news," he said.
Carrie Gartner, executive director of the district, thanked voters for approving the tax.
"We're looking forward to talking to them about the future of downtown," she said.
Opponents of the sales tax cited vague ballot language and better uses for the money as reasons to reject the tax.
Eapen Thampy of Keep Columbia Free wrote a letter to voters encouraging them to vote against the tax. He complained about the outcome Tuesday night.
"I think that this vote is shamefully undemocratic," he said. "It’s going to take $300,000 out of the local economy because some local businesses paid $4,000 and got 25 people to vote for it."
Cool Stuff owner Arnie Fagan, who also opposed the tax, isn't sure it will help his business.
"Three words: It won't work," he said. "I think any time you charge more money to people, some of them won’t be pleased."
Fagan thinks different proposals for how to use the money might have changed his mind.
"It would be different if I thought the money would be used to do some positive things," he said.
When it came down to it, Fagan knew he had to accept the vote.
"The people have spoken," he said.
As the district moves forward, Gartner said its representatives plan to gauge what those in downtown want.
"We’re going to start by doing a survey of residents and businesses and see what they want to prioritize," Gartner said.
Downtown shoppers had mixed feelings on the new tax.
Columbia resident Lizzie Bryan thought the tax should have been subject to a citywide vote, but she was fine with paying the extra tax.
"Honestly, it's a growing town," she said. "I would like them to fix stuff up."
Harrison Lee was amazed at how few people voted.
"It's a joke that only 40 people decided the fate of a tax that all these college students are going to have to pay," he said.
Bryan, however, didn't see the tax as that big a deal.
"It's hardly anything," she said.