Columbia City Council votes down proposed TIF

Tuesday, February 18, 2014 | 1:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:35 a.m. CST, Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Columbia residents and students meet for the public hearings at Monday's City Council meeting. Public hearings included discussion for the CoMo Connect transit project and new business regarding a proposed tax increment financing district.

COLUMBIA — The Columbia City Council has derailed the downtown tax increment financing district that city staff have advocated for the past few months.

In a 5-2 vote Monday, the council dismissed a list of of infrastructure and building projects worth $70 million, including $19.75 million in immediate infrastructure repairs, that would have been funded under the proposed TIF. 

Only Mayor Bob McDavid and Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp voted in favor of the plan.  

Governments can only use TIFs to pay for projects that would otherwise remain unfunded, Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine said.

The vote — which City Manager Mike Matthes described as a "blood-pressure test" and Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser said was  a "vote of confidence" — means that the TIF district will likely not move forward, St. Romaine said. 

The council's decision might also cause several developers to pull out of Columbia. Before the vote, St. Romaine said representatives of OPUS Group and Park 7 Group told him they plan to cancel their developments if the city did not approve the downtown infrastructure funding.

All of the council members who voted against the plan said the city needs to find a solution to downtown's infrastructure strain — but council members were split on what that solution might be.

In an interview prior to Monday's council meeting, Nauser said she supports high-density development in downtown Columbia, but she was not willing to use a TIF to fund projects that do not address downtown's infrastructure. 

"I'm not willing to take incremental tax revenue to fund beautification projects," Nauser said, referring to projects such as the proposed downtown streetscape and gateway improvements.  

Prior to the council's decision, utility officials described the specific limitations of the city's water, electric and sewage systems that have caused city officials to block seven developers from building downtown. 

Director of Public Works John Glascock said that the main problem with downtown's sewer infrastructure is stormwater runoff entering the sewer system. Glascock said as little as one inch of rain can cause the city's sewer system to overflow near the MKT Trail. 

City officials had hoped to use the tax financing plan to enlarge the sewer pipe that runs alongside the MKT Trail toward the Columbia Sewer Treatment Plant. That project is estimated to cost $6.75 million.

Tad Johnsen, director of Columbia Water and Light, said any new downtown development would  raise electrical use to the city's capacity.

The proposed taxing district would have allowed the city to use $10 million to increase electric capacity downtown by creating three new feeder lines.


Hover over the text in the graphic below to learn more about the history of tax-increment financing projects in Columbia. Elizabeth Scheltens/Missourian

This video by Kip Hill and Dak Dillon shows how TIF works:

Supervising editor is Adam Aton.

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Bill Weitkemper February 18, 2014 | 3:08 p.m.

RE: Glascock said as little as one inch of rain can cause the city's sewer system to overflow near the MKT Trail.

With all due respect, that is just not true.

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