EEZ Board discusses environmental concerns, property values

Thursday, June 7, 2012 | 7:52 p.m. CDT; updated 10:25 p.m. CDT, Thursday, June 7, 2012

COLUMBIA — At its second meeting, the Enhanced Enterprise Zone Board on Thursday discussed the pros and cons for homeowners included in an EEZ, the role environmental concerns should play in recommending eligible businesses and the effects of property tax abatement. 

An EEZ is a tax credit program intended to encourage businesses to expand or locate within the designated area. 

More recent income data 

The EEZ Board came to no conclusions Thursday other than that it needs more information, specifically regarding updated income data in order to make any zoning decisions.

Bernie Andrews, vice president of Regional Economic Development Inc., provided 2000 and 2010 maps showing the qualifying income data for the Rebuilding Communities Tax Credit. The program requires eligible areas to have a median income under 70 percent of the median income of city residents.

The 2010 map of eligible areas in Columbia covered a larger area than the 2000 map. At its first meeting last week, the board requested more recent poverty data than the 2000 numbers the state uses for the EEZ program.

Because the census block groups had changed, it was more difficult than expected to create a map comparing the EEZ qualifications, Andrews said.

Andrews said he would continue to gather information.

Property tax abatement levels 

Another aspect of the EEZ that was supposed to be discussed was the property tax abatement levels, which are the levels businesses within the EEZ would receive as tax exemptions or reductions, but the talks were tabled.

Columbia School Board representative, James Whitt was not in attendance Thursday, and EEZ Board member Anthony Stanton did not want to have the discussion without him. 

Boone County Collector Pat Lensmeyer, who represents the other taxing districts, said the abatement would decrease tax revenues.

"The piece that may be missing is that in the normal course of events in Boone County, property taxes go up year over year because of who we are and what we do," Lensmeyer said. "They’re losing the normal increase."

Eligible industries 

The board approved one group of North American Industry Classification System codes for agricultural businesses, which would make those businesses eligible for the EEZ program. It agreed each member would bring a list of proposed exclusions to the next meeting.

Board member Jeremy Root expressed concern about the environmental consequences of businesses such as heavy metal manufacturers. Randy Morrow, vice president and chief operating officer of Boone Hospital Center as well as secretary of REDI’s board of directors, agreed.

"We want to continue to be an environmentally friendly community," Morrow said.

Zone boundaries 

Andrews also presented the three different proposed zoning maps that were initially discussed at Monday's meeting and shared some information about a potential company that would provide the incentive to add a census block group, including the Parkade neighborhood, into the potential zone. He said it’s a manufacturing company that is considering several other cities.

"Incentives are important to them," Andrews said. "It’s nothing unusual or environmentally unfriendly."

The board talked about the pros and cons of including residential areas in the zone. Root expressed concern about the possibility of displacing residents.

"Nothing that we do is going to directly displace anyone," Root said. "It has the potential to make real property more valuable for commercial rather than residential purposes."

Stanton suggested this was actually a positive because it would increase property values. He said input from neighborhood associations in the area would be helpful. Morrow said there were other safeguards in place such as the zoning of the property.

The board voted for each member to bring personal recommendations for the EEZ map to its next meeting.

Public comments

  • Linda Green, a member of the Mid-Missouri Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and Monta Welch of the Columbia Climate Change Coalition, gave copies of Greg LeRoy’s book, "The Great American Jobs Scam: Corporate Tax Dodging and the Myth of Job Creation," to board members.
  • Green said the board should consider the state blight requirement for zones to be eligible. "You have a higher calling as a citizen of our town," she said.
  • Khesha Duncan said that though she’s not against the EEZ, she doesn’t think it will alleviate poverty conditions. "I’m having a problem with the EEZ as a job creation tool," Duncan said. "They only have to create two jobs. I don’t see how that’s going to put much of a dent in our poverty level."

Coming up

The board did not set its next meeting but informally agreed on a meeting from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. sometime next week. Check the board's schedule on the city website for updates.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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