Columbia City Council rescinds blight resolution

Monday, May 7, 2012 | 10:33 p.m. CDT; updated 5:08 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, May 8, 2012

COLUMBIA — City Attorney Fred Boeckmann's recommendation to the Columbia City Council to rescind the blight decree was met with restrained applause and subdued cheers, despite Mayor Bob McDavid's request for no demonstrations at the council's meeting Monday evening.

The council unanimously voted in favor of Boeckmann's recommendations.

Originally adopted by the council Feb. 6, Resolution 20-12A established an Enhanced Enterprise Zone Advisory Board and certified that a portion of Columbia and pieces of Boone County contained "inadequacies that lead to blight."

Now that the resolution has been rescinded, Regional Economic Development Inc. will have to restart the process of getting a map approved and an advisory board established.

REDI President Mike Brooks said he found it "hard to respond" to the recommended rescission and asserted that "every good faith effort" had been made to "help Columbia be a stronger player in the creation of jobs."

"I hope the council realizes that it's important to have public buy-in before resolutions and ordinances are established," Columbia citizen Traci Wilson-Kleekamp said during public comment. "The public wants to be in on these decisions, particularly if it's about economic development involving blight and people's property."

Kleekamp also recommended that the advisory board be more diverse and representative of Columbia's population and that a dynamic conversation take place about all the available tools for economic development.

Under the state statute for enhanced enterprise zones, establishing a blight decree was a necessary step in the process of creating an enhanced enterprise zone. The enhanced enterprise zone program would use tax incentives to encourage new development in the manufacturing sector. New development, according to REDI, would result in job growth.

The Missouri Department of Economic Development used poverty and unemployment statistics from the 2000 census to determine which areas qualified as blighted. The boundaries of the zone map included the areas considered blighted.

Yet the blight decree opened the flood gates to public backlash concerning potential eminent domain abuse, declining property values, the use of 12-year-old data to paint an economic portrait and skepticism regarding the effectiveness of an enhanced enterprise zone as a tool for economic development. 

The most potent argument, however, was the questionable legality of the original resolution itself. 

Article II, Section 15 of the City Charter states that the council must enact "legislative business" by ordinance rather than resolution. Opponents of the blight decree declared that the use of a resolution kept the public from providing meaningful input in the process. City ordinances require multiple readings and opportunities for public input, whereas resolutions do not.

"The point is that the blight decree and advisory board should have been established by ordinance," Boeckmann said. He apologized for not recognizing that misstep in February.

Despite the rescission, members of the public continued to push the importance of addressing unemployment and poverty in Columbia. Tim Rich, executive director at Heart of Missouri United Way, said unemployment is the "real crisis" that exists in Columbia, and for United Way to provide a path out of poverty to the people who need it most, available jobs need to be at the end of the pipeline.

"We must get the jobs into these poor communities," Rich said during public comment. "I encourage you to do whatever it takes to get those jobs here."

Even with the need for job creation, Sixth Ward City Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe said the process of establishing economic development programs such as the enhanced enterprise zone still needs to be done correctly.

"In terms of jobs, the community is starting to have a larger dialogue about how the enhanced enterprise zone could be one component in economic development," Hoppe said. "I look forward to furthering that discussion and I appreciate everyone's work."

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Derrick Fogle May 8, 2012 | 11:50 a.m.

The next REDI map should be tattooed on their foreeheads. I'll let others suggest exactly WHAT those tattoos should be "approved" maps of.

(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders May 8, 2012 | 12:34 p.m.

Why does every story now contain Traci Wilson-Kleekamp? (Isn't she too busy tarring racists with syrup?)

In other news, it's nice to see power have to pretend to serve the public, lest the true nature of their criminal activity grow too obvious.

(Report Comment)
David Sautner May 8, 2012 | 1:18 p.m.

Would an ordinance also mean that the blight designation be put on the ballot for citizens to vote on? It had better be!
Rescinding the blight designation is great, but it does not address the even more disturbing aspects concerning REDI and the EEZ. First of all the EEZ is not a product of a City Council vote but rather the child of REDI and the CID. Unlike most cities in which an improvement district is supported through membership fees, in Columbia the CID is funded through sales tax money (via businesses) and property taxes (via property owners). If the money from tax dollars are supporting the CID, then the tax payers ought to have access to what exactly the CID is going to do for them. In addition, since sales tax dollars are supporting the CID then downtown consumers (and property owners... as a side note: wouldn't it be hilarious to see a property owner in Columbia who has been inadverdently supporting the CID by way of their taxes have their property blighted?) should have representation on CID's board. Now, REDI gets some of its funding through tax dollars, but is mostly funded through incremental membership fees that make it virtually impossible for small businesses to participate, much less compete. Further, not one of any of the neighborhood associations sit on REDI's board of directors. City and County funding should be pulled from REDI (the City and the County are on the REDI board, but they have not disclosed any information to the neiborhood associations as to the blight status of their properties). Likewise, all sales tax dollars should be pulled from CID since they obviously do not support the neighborhoods they purport to represent.
Further, not REDI nor the CID have disclosed what sorts of jobs they would be bringing to Columbia once they have blighted the poorest neighborhoods. Would they be louzy minimum wage dead-end jobs that destroy the environment and undermine your mental and physical health, or would they be green jobs that also offer on-the-job training and upward mobility? Such possiblities should be included on a ballot initiative for a City and County ordinance.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking May 8, 2012 | 5:27 p.m.

David Sautner wrote:

"Further, not REDI nor the CID have disclosed what sorts of jobs they would be bringing to Columbia once they have blighted the poorest neighborhoods."

They don't really know what kind of jobs. There are specifications for what kind of job generating activities qualify for tax breaks under an EEZ:

The record of job creation under these zones hasn't been particularly notable. Blight's just a word, but the lack of job creation in existing EEZ's is more of a reason not to do it.


(Report Comment)

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