City Council prepares for future ballot initiatives

Monday, June 2, 2014 | 10:17 p.m. CDT; updated 7:04 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, June 3, 2014

COLUMBIA — City officials are gearing up to ask the public for a lot of money over the next year — and beyond.

The Columbia City Council during a work session on Monday night reviewed eight potential ballot issues, three of which will probably appear on the November ballot.

There was considerable debate among the council about whether to include all three items they're considering — a property tax increase for public safety funding, an electric utility bond issue and an increase in development fees — for the ballot in November.

Council members were concerned that the appearance of the electric utility bond issue and an increase in development fees appearing alongside each other would turn off voters to one or both issues, but the council decided against removing one from the ballot for the time being.

"These are the top eight unmet needs in the city right now," Columbia City Manager Mike Matthes said.

Here's a look at the proposals and what the council had to say about them.

Public safety ballot issue

The council is considering a 30-cent increase in the city's property tax that would provide money for more police and firefighters. It would appear on the November ballot.

The city's property tax levy has been 41 cents for decades. The increase, as proposed, would be gradual. If the public safety issue makes the ballot and passes, a five-cent increase to the tax would be installed every other year. 

"Five cents gets you seven public safety officers," Mayor Bob McDavid said.

In total, a 30-cent increase would cost the owner of a $200,000 home an additional $114 per year. A 5-cent increase would cost $19 more per year.

Property owners can review their tax bills at the Boone County Collector's website.

Electric utility bond issue

A bond issue to pay for electric projects also planned for the November ballot would pay for the development of transmission lines and one downtown feeder line. The city would pay off the bonds through higher utility rates.

Deputy City Manager Tony St. Romaine said the ballot issue's total hasn't been finalized.

Higher developer fees

The developer fee initiative, headed by Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala, is intended to extract more money from developers to help cover the costs of infrastructure. The developer fee will be placed on the November ballot.

Stormwater utility fee increase

The council is targeting the April 2015 ballot for a proposed increase in the stormwater utility fee.

10-year extension of the quarter-cent capital sales tax

The capital sales tax pays for government projects that fall outside the day-to-day operations of city government, such as major new streets or buildings. If voters agree to extend the tax, it would be used primarily for street and public safety projects.

Extending the one-eighth-cent park sales tax

The city has two park sales taxes. The one-eighth-cent tax funds parks operations and long-term debt. The one-quarter-cent tax pays for capital projects.

The one-eighth-cent tax, which was last approved in 2010, will expire March 3, 2016. The council is planning to place the extension on the November 2015 ballot.

Transit utility fee

The transit utility fee will be placed on the August 2016 ballot.

Use tax

The use tax, which taxes online purchases, is being considered for a ballot sometime beyond 2016.

Also coming to a ballot near you

The August ballot already is crowded with statewide and local measures. Statewide, voters will see five issues in August. They include:

  • A three-quarter-cent transportation sales tax increase that would generate an estimated $534 million per year for highway projects.
  • A constitutional amendment that would "forever guarantee" the right to farm.
  • A constitutional amendment defining the right to bear arms as "unalienable" and requiring the the state to defend against any "infringement." It would include the keeping of ammunition and defending one's family with a firearm as constitutional rights.
  • A proposal directing the Missouri Lottery Commission to create a lottery ticket that will benefit veterans' homes.
  • A constitutional amendment that would protect electronic communications and data from unreasonable searches and seizures.

In Boone County, voters also will see a proposed one-eighth-cent sales tax for parks that was placed on the ballot by the County Commission.

Some of the information in this story was contributed by The Associated Press.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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