Lenoir Woods residents gather to discuss blight and EEZ

Thursday, November 1, 2012 | 7:59 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Blight remained the main concern for residents of the Lenoir Woods senior community at Thursday's meeting of residents and representatives from Regional Economic Development Inc. and Citizens Involved and Invested in Columbia.

The Lenoir Neighborhood Association hosted the meeting  to discuss the proposed south enhanced enterprise zone. More than 40 Lenoir Woods residents attended the meeting.

Bernie Andrews of REDI and Dan Hemmelgarn of CiViC presented positives and negatives to implementing an EEZ that would include the neighborhood. 

Andrews walked the crowd through the steps for implementing an EEZ:

  • An advisory board is established to make recommendations to the Columbia City Council.
  • The City Council then decides whether to move forward.
  • The city and county draft an ordinance based on the advisory board's recommendations.
  • A public hearing is held.
  • The City Council votes on the ordinance.
  • If passed, it goes to Boone County for approval
  • Finally, if the proposal is approved by both the city and county, it is submitted to the Department of Economic Development for review.

Andrews also cited the advantages of establishing an EEZ in that area. New factories or businesses would bring increased tax revenue for Columbia Public Schools, Andrews said. The City Council recently rezoned a section next to the 3M plant in Columbia from an agriculture zoning code to a zoning code that permits a business to move to that property.

Commercial property is assessed at 32 percent of its appraised value, while agricultural property is assessed at 12 percent of its appraised value.

In 2011, 3M paid $133,522 in real property taxes and $147,253 in personal property taxes to the city. The owner of the agricultural area next to 3M was only paying $261 in taxes to the city.

"Would you rather have 100 percent of $261 or a big percentage of those two numbers there combined," Andrews said, referring to 3M's taxes. "We look at it as a positive thing for the school district. It brings jobs and new tax revenue for the school district."

Andrews also cited the amount of the property tax in Columbia that goes to the Columbia Public Schools. Voters passed a 40-cent tax levy increase in April to raise the tax rate from $4.08 to $4.48 per hundred dollars. 

Hemmelgarn followed Andrews' presentation with an opposing view to the EEZ implementation. Hemmelgarn discussed the negative connotations associated with blight, Columbia's already strong job growth, and the discrepancies in estimated investments by the Department of Economic Development and money actually invested by a company in an EEZ.

"These tax abatement schemes are, in a sense, a legalized form of extortion when you think about it," Hemmelgarn said. "Companies are getting out of paying their taxes. If businesses aren't paying it, we're going to have to make it up somewhere."

Richard Jones, a resident of Lenoir Woods, said Columbia needs to consider the neighborhood's contributions to the community.

"We need to look at the fact this community is such an asset to Columbia," Jones said. "We're all retirees here, but we contribute to the economy — we shop here and use Columbia's medical facilities."

Jones was also concerned with how blight is determined.

"Blight is a nebulous term subject to interpretation," Jones said. "I don't see the rationale for an EEZ that bleeds tax money out of the community." 

The next EEZ Advisory Board meeting will be held  at 5 p.m. on Nov. 14 at the Daniel Boone City Building. 

Supervising editor is Simina Mistreanu.

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