COLUMBIA — The Columbia City Council unanimously approved putting a bond measure on the Nov. 5 ballot that will ask the public to vote on increasing rates to improve the infrastructure of the sewage system.
The proposal would put a $32.34 million bond issue up for public approval that would be repaid via increased sanitary sewer utility rates. A 6 percent increase in 2015 would be followed by a 5 percent increase in 2017 and then a 1 percent increase in 2019. These increases would be cumulative, leading to a total average monthly increase of about $3 that would put the average monthly residential rates for Columbia slightly below Springfield and Jefferson City.
Eighteen projects are scheduled around Columbia, with the majority planned for the Fourth Ward. Planned improvements include repairing manholes and sewer lines, extending sewer lines, improving inflow and infiltration of stormwater and eliminating wastewater treatment facilities that discharge into creeks in the city.
Director of Public Works John Glascock said in certain areas of the city the sewage pipes are made of clay and are cracked and leaking.
He said dealing with the issue of water in basements and sewage overflow can be solved by improving the inflow and infiltration of stormwater. Half of the proposed cost, about $16 million, would go toward those improvements.
What the Council said
Only two council members spoke to the merits of the plan, with one supporting the plan and another expressing hesitation.
"People with water in the basement are asking for this, too, and three dollars seems cheap to me," First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt said.
Barbara Hoppe, Sixth Ward councilwoman, mentioned her concern for paying for the development.
"I think there's a great need for all of this," she said. "But I do think there is a concern about the extent of paying for new development and whether those costs should ultimately be reimbursed through new development. I don't think this is the time to have that discussion though. But we need to look at it."
Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said the appropriate time to "dig into" the new development debate would be when the council has a comprehensive discussion of the execution of the plan.
"Fundamentally, the voters will get to decide," Michael Trapp, Second Ward councilman, said. "I think moving this into their court and letting them decide if this is how they want to spend their dollars is the right thing to do."
What the public said
The only person who spoke during the public comments section was Don Stamper, executive director of Central Missouri Development Council. He said the Development Council supports the measure as is but he was nervous that the council would remove certain aspects.
He said the extension of sewer lines was an important measure for him. Stamper said the extension incorporates people outside of city limits into the sewage system leading to more customers and more revenue for the city. He also said that without the extension, there could an environmental problem that would cost the city more to clean up than to prevent.
The proposal has about $4.4 million allocated for sewer extensions.
"Just don't let them change it," Stamper said after the meeting. "I want to stop their desire to tinker."
The bond measure will be on the Nov. 5 ballot where residents will be able to vote whether to approve the bond.
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