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.