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Columbia Missourian

City Council candidates discuss development incentives

By Missourian staff
March 25, 2013 | 6:15 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Missourian reporters asked candidates for seats on the Columbia City Council nine standardized questions about city government issues. Here are their verbatim answers to a question about incentives for development.

What is your view of whether and how the city should use tax incentives in its attempts to lure new business and industry to town?

On The Watchword

You can find audio files of the City Council candidates' answers to the Missourian's questions on our local government blog, The Watchword.

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Mayoral candidates

Bob McDavid: "Many new businesses unfortunately have the opportunity to shop from community to community, and often they, one of the factors that they use to determine where they’re gonna locate is cost. And the lower the cost, the more attractive their business opportunity is. We do have some incentives. We use them. They were useful in getting IBM to town. They were useful in getting Beyond Meat to town. Frankly, if you go back to 1839, the incentives were useful in getting this enterprise called the University of Missouri to town. That turned out pretty well. So it is a fact of life, you know. People use coupons at grocery stores — that’s an incentive. People use incentives on rebates when they buy cars. So it is the way a society works. You have to do them on a case-by-case basis. You can make foolish incentives and come up with a disaster like Moberly did with Mamtek, or you can be prudent and judicious with your incentives and come up with a success like you did with IBM."

Sid Sullivan: "Well, Columbia itself is a very inviting city itself with our trails and parks. There's a lot of money that we've put together in terms of providing a city that would attract businesses. When it comes to tax incentives, I think we have to be very careful about the kinds of industry that we're trying to recruit here. And the tax incentives have given industry the leverage where they're playing city against city. And so, although we need jobs, we really have to look at the payback in terms the city could get. I've worked with some of the areas in terms of tax incremental financing, in terms of use of industrial parks and business parks, that those are kind of incentives that target a particular area where essentially you pay for what you get and you get what you pay for in those areas that could be targeted to use. But the EEZ I didn't think was appropriate for Columbia, where you target an entire neighborhood and they don't receive the benefit of that tax break."

Third Ward candidates

Karl Skala: "Well, I was on the City Council when we first took a look at tax incentives in the form of TIFs, tax increment financing. The TIF Commission was established. We always took a very case-by-case approach here to help carefully evaluate those kinds of incentive programs. I think that it’s worth considering incentive programs. It’s also worth making sure that we evaluate them carefully and on a case-by-case basis. Generally speaking, there are other issues that intrude, like fairness to other businesses and so on. But I think incentives can play a role. However, I think they ought to be evaluated per project, not on a TIF district, for example. That was discussed. I think that’s not a place that we want to go, but we do want to consider incentives, but we want to consider them very carefully."

Gary Kespohl: "It's become a way of the world to have to offer incentives to attract businesses to an area. At present time, Columbia doesn't have any established incentives. We need to come up with a list of incentives we can offer. If we don't offer incentives, we won't get any new development or businesses. They'll go elsewhere. So Columbia has got to get involved in that and be a player in that market."

Fourth Ward candidates

Daryl Dudley: "Three years ago, when I campaigned, I said that I wanted to put people to work. I still want to put people to work. The people I want to put to work are lower-paying jobs and less-educated people. There are a lot more people in this community that do not have a college degree than there are that have a college degree. Those people need to work just as much as do the people with the education. If it requires incentives of taxes or property taxes, some kind of a tax, I have no problem with that, but each one needs to be looked at individually. But we do have to get more jobs in here for those people. I realize that we're are losing more all the time. We need to consider why those jobs are leaving. And we need to keep them here and bring more in. Yes, I am in favor of incentives if that’s what it takes to keep people or bring people in."

Ian Thomas: "I’m generally fairly skeptical of tax incentives, and it sounds as if you’re referring to the EEZ program here. That particular program, the evidence that it had been effective in other communities, bringing, you know, big employers to town, was somewhat scant. There’s going to be a negative impact on publicly funded institutions because of the tax abatement that’s offered to the businesses, and there was clearly a lot of community concern about the blight designation. So my thought about, you know, economic development is that while a certain amount of trying to lure businesses in is probably appropriate, I’d really like to explore providing incentives for our existing employers in Columbia to expand and hire new employees."

Bill Weitkemper: "I’m not in favor of tax incentives for new businesses. That’s just, I think, that’s just not the thing to do. You know, existing businesses are just as important as new businesses, and the city shouldn’t be giving public money to private enterprise through incentives."

Missourian reporters Hannah Cushman, Elizabeth Pearl, Tony Puricelli, Madeline O'Leary, Chris Jasper, Allison Prang and Nuria Mathog contributed to this report.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

To hear audio interviews with the candidates, go to The Watchword, the Missourian's local government blog.