COLUMBIA — City voters on Tuesday gave overwhelming approval to the fourth sewer bond issue since 1998.
The $32.3 million bond issue, the only item on the special-election ballot, passed with almost 80 percent of the vote — 4,527 to 1,137.
HOW THE BOND WILL BE SPENT
Here's the spending plan for a $32.3 million bond issue passed by city voters:
Maintenance: 85 percent
- $15.9 million: Inflow and infiltration reduction projects
- $3.5 million: Annual sewer main and manhole rehabilitation
- $3.8 million: Replacing private sewer lines
- $4.1 million: Improvements at the Wastewater Treatment Plant
Sewer line extensions: 14 percent
- $4.1 million: Extension of sewer mains for future growth
Financing costs: 1 percent
- $600,000: Cost to administer the bond
In the run-up to the election, a citizens committee was appointed by Mayor Bob McDavid to help promote the issue. Committee chair Matt Williams said he was happy the bond passed with such high support.
"We're very pleased," Williams said. "There were a lot of people who worked very hard on this, and we're pleased with the result. I think it indicates Columbia voters care about their infrastructure, and that infrastructure is the foundation that everything is built on. I think that just goes to show that people in Columbia care about taking care of their city."
Of the more than 70,000 registered voters, only 5,667, or 8 percent, cast ballots in the election.
"We were hopeful (of high voter turnout), but you never know," Williams said. "We were concerned about turnout more than anything. I think that's about what we were expecting, maybe a little shy."
In the weeks before the election, a citizens committee raised more than $12,000, committee Treasurer Steve Erdel said Tuesday. The committee bought newspaper and radio advertisements, sent emails to friends and spoke to interested groups to promote the issue.
"We did typical promotional activity for a local election such as this," Erdel said.
Approval means city sewer customers will see an increase in their monthly payment every other year. The average residential sewer bill of $24.20 would increase by $1.45 in fiscal 2015, $1.28 in fiscal 2017 and 27 cents in fiscal 2019.
This marks the fourth time since 1998 that city voters have approved bonds for sewer work. A 2003 bond issue passed with 65 percent, and voters supported a 2008 proposal with 77 percent.
While past sewer bonds were more evenly split between maintenance and expanding the sewer infrastructure, the issue approved Tuesday dedicated 85 percent of its funds to maintenance.
According to the city, there are 675 miles of sewers, and only 45 miles have been replaced or repaired in the past 40 years. Almost $16 million will be spent on inflow and infiltration reduction and system improvement projects across Columbia. Inflow and infiltration occur when unwanted groundwater and stormwater enter the sanitary sewer system.
When stormwater enters the sanitary sewer system, manholes can overflow or sewage can back up into homes or businesses. The city hopes these inflow and infiltration projects will help reduce the number of overflows and backups. According to the city, there have been 389 sanitary sewer overflows and 97 reported sewer backups in the past five years.
Voices of voters
At polling places across Columbia on Tuesday voters shared their thoughts, and the importance of maintaining the city's infrastructure was a common rationale for voting "yes."
"We have an old infrastructure, and we need to repair it to keep it strong and up to date to avoid failures and health issues," Barbara Schneider, 62, said after voting at St. Andrew's Lutheran Church on West Boulevard.
Several voters pointed to the continued growth of Columbia as a factor in their decisions to vote in favor of the bond issue.
"As we've built up Columbia, we need to extend the sewer system," Larry Samuel, 73, said outside of Rock Bridge Christian Church on Green Meadows Road.
Some voters said they opposed the bonds.
"I support development, but hit the developers up for some of the cost," Colin Burgess said at the Fairview Road Church of Christ polling place.
"I've it seen before," he said. "I'm tired of the city and the county always hitting us up for more money."
Lisa Boone, who also voted at the Fairview Road church, said she wanted to "support the continued improvement of the infrastructure of our community."
That sentiment was shared by Steve Yoakum, 60.
"One of the great things about living in Columbia is we're proactive about addressing things before they are an issue and as a growing city," he said. "That's important."
Other voters said they considered the long-term costs of maintaining sewer systems when making their decisions.
Missourian reporters Nassim Benchaabane, James Gordon, Jackie Trahan, Caroline Murray and Landon Woodroof contributed to this report