COLUMBIA — Mayor Bob McDavid worries that putting infrastructure bond issues on November's ballot could endanger the renewal of current bonds, he told members of the Downtown Leadership Council Infrastructure Subcommittee on Thursday.
The city is searching for a way to fund improvements to utilities. The Columbia City Council rejected one solution, a Tax Increment Financing District, at its Feb. 17 meeting, because the measure was too rushed for proper public engagement. Two developers, Collegiate Housing Partners and Opus Development Co., paid the city $600,000 for utility improvements in exchange for building permits by April 1 — but a systemic solution remains elusive.
Collegiate Housing Partners: Six-story apartment structure with 351 beds on the south side of Conley Avenue, between Fourth and Fifth streets.
Opus Development Co.: Six-story building with 256 beds on the north side of Locust Street, between Seventh and Eighth streets.
McDavid said issuing bonds for $10 million in electric improvements and $7 million in sewer improvements is an option, but it might be "short-sighted."
"I don't want to do anything to compromise the quarter-cent capital improvement sales tax next year," he said. "If we don't have that, we lose that $7 million a year."
"We've got to have public confidence for that," he added.
Downtown Columbia Leadership Council member Pat Fowler said she'd like information shared with residents in a more transparent way. She's also concerned that developers' interests are eclipsing the resident-driven city planning documents, like the Charrette Report and Sasaki Study.
"I heard you say on the record that you had met 6 or 7 times with Opus Development," she said to McDavid. "What bothers us is not only have we had lots of conflicting information about the infrastructure, but we also find that these plans that we've invested our time into didn't get equal footing or we didn't have equal access to you to explain why these plans were so important."
McDavid said the Opus Development Co. project wouldn't have come before the council if not for the infrastructure issues. The mayor said he hoped to clear up any confusion surrounding the infrastructure issues and the way they've been handled.
"I'm just here to make sure you understand there really is a capacity issue," McDavid said. "I appreciate the opportunity to come to this group, because this is a brainstorming session, and I don't have a solution."
Downtown needs about 20 megawatts of additional electric capacity for development to resume, he said. Seven of those 20 megawatts will be in place this fall thanks to a new feeder line from the Rebel Hill substation.
McDavid said that the 13 to 14 megawatts of electricity needed would cost $10 million.
"As a community this is going to be a difficult challenge," McDavid said. "Because fixing this takes money. Where's the money coming from? Can you get it from developers? Can you get it from users? Most repairs, most extensions come from bonding which is paid by user rates."
McDavid said part of the $7 million sewer fix would've been completely funded if the American Campus Communities project had proceeded.
The project was tabled for two months at a special council meeting Wednesday. As part of its development agreement, ACC would have paid $300,000 toward a connecting sewer main downtown. Collegiate Housing Partners, whose project did proceed, will pay $150,000 of the $450,000 cost of the connecting main improvement.
Supervising editor is Adam Aton.