Enhanced Enterprise Zone Board clarifies proposals

Friday, March 9, 2012 | 5:17 p.m. CST; updated 2:37 p.m. CDT, Monday, March 12, 2012

COLUMBIA — After questions about the proposed enhanced enterprise zone and its associated blight decree were left lingering by previous meetings, a group of concerned citizens who gathered in City Hall on Friday morning finally got some answers.

There, members of the Enhanced Enterprise Zone Board collaborated with top Regional Economic Development Inc. officials to tackle several items on the laundry list of public grievances.

Minimizing the effects of blight

REDI moved Thursday to prevent a local declaration of blight from being used to trigger other laws that require the designation at the state level. Board member Carrie Gartner suggested the same safeguard, a clarifying ordinance, at the local level.

"I recommend city staff draft a resolution to council saying that no eminent domain will occur as a result of an EEZ blight designation," Gartner said, winning unanimous approval from her peers.

Gartner made the recommendation in hopes of formalizing assurances already issued from City Council and REDI.

"We should take (eminent domain) off the table as even a possible option," she said.

Reducing the size of the map

In answer to public alarm at the size of the enhanced enterprise zone map — earlier versions encompassed more than half of the city — REDI has shaved six census blocks, most residential, from the area wrapped by the zone's boundaries.

Among the areas on the proverbial cutting room floor are East Campus, Stephens College and Boone Hospital.

In all, 10,000 residents were removed from the map, said Bernie Andrews, REDI's executive vice president.

Ensuring impoverished neighborhoods benefit

Per state regulation, a baseline of 50 percent of local tax abatement must be offered to qualifying entities in an enhanced enterprise zone.

But additional abatement can be offered to businesses in order to "incentivize other standards," said Columbia Public Schools representative Jonathan Sessions.

Among the standards discussed Friday were hiring practices. Board members suggested offering additional abatement for employing a certain number of residents from neighborhoods within the zone or members of minority groups.

Providing evidentiary support

Andrews produced a spreadsheet detailing revenue created by a hypothetical $1 million investment along the Route B target area, should an enhanced enterprise zone be approved.

His findings showed that even with the state-mandated 50 percent local tax abatement, the city would receive $104,000 in revenue from the investment over a 10-year period.

Andrews said personal property, which includes things such as machinery, was not factored into that figure. Items in that category will be subject to full taxation.

REDI Chairman Dave Griggs said businesses receiving state and local incentives must reapply annually. Companies are eligible to receive local abatement and state tax credits for a maximum of 10 years.

When that decade ends, or if a company fails to qualify for the following year, it will be taxed 100 percent, effectively doubling revenue generated by its investments.

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Mike Martin March 10, 2012 | 10:36 a.m.

Where does one begin.

Firstly, no matter what Carrie Gartner or any other EEZ board member suggests by way of amendment, the term "blight," all of its legal ramifications, and its ugly, racist history remain.

It is defined by Missouri state statute, and cannot be altered by City Council resolution, no matter what the motivation or desire.

By state law, the City Council, REDI, and the Blight Board cannot "take (eminent domain) off the table as a possible option."

A blight declaration puts eminent domain and a host of other problematic issues firmly and squarely on the table until the declaration is formally lifted.

Secondly, REDI can shave and machine their blight map any way they like. That still doesn't address the many other problems with this program, which was designed for truly depressed, truly blighted areas as a route of last resort.

Beyond blight, a gigantic shifting of the property tax burden -- caused by everything from current corrupt property tax assessment practices to existing incentives like TIF -- has already set in, with school bond debt soaring, and tax levies rapidly catching up. The EEZ will only exacerbate this problem.

Thirdly, the leadership behind this thing has been an unmitigated disaster. They left out 95% of the community; carried on in secret; rushed everything to push it through without public notice; had a terrible time explaining it at Tuesday's public meeting; and have proven time and again that the real beneficiaries are REDI members: publicly-funded lobbyists lining their pockets with the spoils for which they lobby.

The Jack Abramoff School of Columbia Corporate Cronyism is now in session.

Speaking of Sessions, I can't even begin to address the whole Carrie-Jonathan thing, but it isn't playing well either, and calls are gradually rising that either one or both of them step off the EEZ board.

Finally, last I looked, the term "gaggle" applied to geese, not citizens concerned about their future. I'm a bit surprised this article collectivizes and dismisses their voice as little more than a "laundry list of public grievances."


(Report Comment)
Tom Wood March 10, 2012 | 1:25 p.m.

Don't you understand what the citizens are really concerned about? The "Good Ol' Boys Network" crafted this "blight" ordinance for reasons that only they know and understand. And have no doubt they know EXACTLY what they intend to do with it (but you can count on it adding to their personal fortunes). We citizens who will be suffering from their gimmicks, have no idea what they are up to. But if we allow this to go into effect, we'll learn (within a few years) what they were cooking up behind the scenes - and we won't be the beneficiaries (nor will our schools, our economy, or OUR city). Think about it and stop the blight.

(Report Comment)
Scott Swafford March 12, 2012 | 1:58 p.m.

Mr. Martin and others who have criticized our use of the term "gaggle" to characterize the group of Columbians worried about an enhanced enterprise zone are absolutely right. Although it certainly was not our intention to be demeaning or dismissive of these residents or their concerns, it sure came off that way. That's why we removed the term from the story.

Scott Swafford is a Missourian city editor.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro March 19, 2012 | 4:59 p.m.

("The redevelopment project known as “The Uptown Consortium,” led by a network of CEOs and chummy board members of the University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati Medical Center, Cincinnati Children’s Medical Center, and the Cincinnati Zoo, bulldozed parts of this quaint college neighborhood and seeks to replace it with retail shops, upscale condos, a hotel, various entertainment venues and a parking garage.

Clifton Heights is a bustling middle-class community with many college students, young families, and faculty. Residents enjoy family-owned bookstores and coffee shops, churches and parks, as well as a busy community center and several small theaters.[1]

To accomplish their goals, the Uptown Consortium inaccurately claimed that the entire area was “blighted,” citing population decline and supposedly unhealthy neighborhoods.")

(Report Comment)

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