COLUMBIA — More than 60 people demonstrated outside of the Columbia City Council meeting on Monday night to show continued opposition to the potential establishment of an enhanced enterprise zone in Columbia.
The demonstrators filed inside just before the council meeting began. Despite Mayor Bob McDavid's acknowledgement of the crowd – urging them against any "demonstrative actions"– both the mayor and the council members were largely unresponsive to the show of opposition.
The council was not voting on or introducing any EEZ-related actions at the meeting.
During the scheduled public comments portion of the council meeting, David Stokes, a policy analyst for the Show-Me Institute, presented preliminary results from an analysis of the original Enterprise Zone Tax Benefit program to show that programs like EEZ are not effective.
Established in 1982, the Enterprise Zone program was a precursor to the EEZ program. Like EEZ, the Enterprise Zone program provided tax credits for job creation and investment by companies within established zones. The Missouri Department of Economic Development began to phase it out in 2004 by state statute in favor of the EEZ program.
Stokes said he compared economic data from counties in Missouri with large zones to bordering counties without an enterprise zone. He said he found no significant difference in the economic performance of the two samples between 1980 and 2005.
“Whatever the numbers may be, the burden of proof is on the wrong foot,” Stokes said. “It should be the burden of supporters of such things to prove that they work.”
An EEZ is a state-run program that provides tax incentives at the state level and requires the local government to provide a property tax break of at least 50 percent on new real property investment. To qualify for the tax breaks, the companies must invest a minimum amount on facility improvement and create at least two jobs.
The establishment of an EEZ also requires the area to be declared blighted, which has sparked opposition to the program. Opponents have also questioned the effectiveness of EEZs at creating jobs, according to previous Missourian reports.
Stokes said he was invited to speak by Keep Columbia Free, a local organization that opposed the EEZ program and has initiated a petition for the recall of First Ward councilman Fred Schmidt because of his support for the EEZ.
After Stokes' address, Mitch Richards, treasurer and spokesperson for Keep Columbia Free, urged the council to listen to the public opposition to the EEZ program.
“We ask that you rescind the ordinance and dissolve the Enhanced Enterprise Zone Board,” Richards said. “We ask that you listen to us.”
Richards asked members of the audience who opposed the EEZ to stand at the end of his comments. Most of the audience stood and applauded. Many of them were among those demonstrating outside of City Hall before the meeting.
Before the 7 p.m. council meeting began, the crowd of EEZ protesters outside City Hall grew from about 25 people to more than 60.
Members of Food Not Bombs served a meal,while demonstrators held signs with slogans like “Fight the blight."
Several organizations were represented at the demonstration including Citizens Involved and Interested in Columbia or Civic, Occupy CoMo, Keep Columbia Free and Grass Roots Organizing.
Mary Hussmann, an organizer for GRO, said she didn’t think the council was listening to the people.
“You listen to the people, and you change your mind,” Hussmann said. “That’s not a sign of weakness. That’s a sign of courage.”
The City Council originally passed a resolution in February that created an Enhanced Enterprise Zone Board and declared more than half of Columbia blighted.
This resolution was rescinded on May 7, but an ordinance re-establishing the EEZ Board was passed on May 21. The EEZ Board is still working on formulating its recommendations to the council.
President of Keep Columbia Free Mark Flakne said the council's unanimous re-establishment of the EEZ Board showed that city council was not listening.
“We feel that we have been ignored,” Flakne said. “At least now they see why they’re being recalled, or why they’ll lose the next election.”
Supervising editor is Ted Hart: news@ColumbiaMissourian.com, 882-7884