COLUMBIA — With seven proposed developments put on hold, Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine and City Manager Mike Matthes are pushing for a tax-increment financing plan that could fund $70 million in infrastructure and other city projects.
Columbia City Council has been asked to select the projects that could be funded by the proposed taxing district.
Although the council's decision Monday night won't establish a downtown tax-increment financing district, it could bolster the plan, which has been criticized by council members, the public and the Boone County government.
Those opposed to the creation of a downtown taxing district are concerned that the approval process has been rushed, especially with the city in the process of revising its zoning regulations.
Opponents of the plan also argue that the proposal could divert future revenue away from other taxing entities that rely on downtown property and sales taxes and that other funding options — raising utility rates or voter approved bonds — have not been considered.
But if council members approve the long list of projects on Monday, it effectively means the city has no other way to pay for those projects unless the proposed taxing district is established, Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp said.
Of the $70 million in proposed projects, $20 million would go toward sewer, water, electric and stormwater improvements that city officials said were needed immediately to allow developers to start building.
The other $50 million could fund future projects, like $2.8 million to expand the city's high-speed fiber-optic network, $4 million for downtown streetscape improvements, $5 million to expand Elm Street east to College Avenue and $18 million for a new parking garage that would be located south of Broadway.
Trapp said he thinks that tax-increment financing is the only way to fund the infrastructure that is needed to allow the commercial and high-density residential developers to begin building.
"I don't think it will be that difficult of a decision to say we can't fund these any other way," Trapp said.
St. Romaine has argued that Columbia residents would not support new bonds or rate increases to fund downtown infrastructure because of "tax fatigue."
Trapp said that improving infrastructure to allow more high-density development downtown should be encouraged and that tax increment financing is a good way to do that.
"It's right within our planning documents," Trapp said, referring to development plans that go back as far as 2006.
Increasing high-density development downtown is smart city planning that could eliminate urban sprawl, Trapp said.
"I would rather grow up then out," he said.
But Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala and Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas have raised concerns about how much developers should pay for the needed infrastructure and how these projects would fit with the city's future zoning rules.
Skala said that developers are "lining up" for C-2 zoning, a zoning designation that regulates commercial development and encompasses much of the downtown region. However, the council is considering changing the zoning regulations that could limit building heights, create parking space requirements, and increase the space between roadways and buildings.
Skala said he is concerned that if the six high-density residential developments are built before zoning rules are changed, it could have a negative impact on the downtown.
"C2 has all types of privileges and no responsibility," he said.
Trapp said he didn't understand the arguments against moving forward with building plans downtown. He said that he approves of the building plans that he has seen and that using a taxing district to fund infrastructure is no less equitable than any other funding method.
"It makes a lot of sense to allow taxes from development to pay for the infrastructure of that development," Trapp said.
Supervising editor is Edward Hart.
Projects in proposed TIF district
Several new infrastructure projects have been added to the list of Columbia's tax-increment-financing district proposal for this year. The Missourian graphics team mapped out the sanitary and stormwater projects in the proposed TIF area. | YICCHENG LIU/Missourian