COLUMBIA — The extra sales tax shoppers pay downtown could help fund work to bring central-city infrastructure up to par and expand utilities’ capacity to accommodate new development, according to a report drafted by the Downtown Leadership Council.
The 47-page report, which was made public last week and is the product of months of work by the advisory council, makes recommendations on how the city should move forward with maintenance and expansion of utilities and other infrastructure until 2050. It estimates the gap between existing and necessary funding for infrastructure over the next 36 years could be as high as $1 billion.
The council met Tuesday afternoon to discuss the report. One of the council's main recommendations is that the Downtown Community Improvement District consider issuing bonds to help pay for the most pressing downtown utility projects. Downtown Leadership also recommended using revenue from the half-cent tax on sales downtown, approved by district voters in 2011, to pay off the bonds.
"I think there is an increment there that can be used to finance some debts and long-term equivalence over (the) next 30 years, and it ought to be on the table," said Brian Treece, vice president of Downtown Leadership.
The improvement district’s budget for fiscal year 2015 estimates the sales tax will generate $543,000 in revenue, up from $474,151 this fiscal year. In the run-up to the 2011 vote on the tax, supporters projected it would raise about $300,000 per year.
Sales and property taxes combined will generate about $725,000 for the improvement district in fiscal year 2015. The budget shows nearly $242,000 of that will be spent on administrative and office expenses, including payroll, supplies and utilities. The budget also calls for spending:
- $201,600 on beautification and streetscape projects
- $96,000 on cleaning and maintenance
- $69,667 on economic development
- $69,800 on marketing
- $44,500 on public safety
By comparison, there are about $70 million worth of infrastructure projects that should be done downtown either immediately or in the near future, according to a section of the report drafted by Deputy City Manager Tony St. Romaine and leadership council member Tony Grove.
"I seriously doubt the CID will support the idea. We don't see it as a logical solution," Deb Sheals, the improvement district representative on the Downtown Leadership Council, said about the possibility of issuing bonds. "But I haven't brought it before the CID board yet."
The report takes a long-range view of the city’s needs, emphasizing the importance of focusing on the long-term benefits rather than the short-term costs of infrastructure improvements. It also encourages the city to look for more sustainable ways to build its infrastructure.
The report says City Manager Mike Matthes should either clarify or retract and apologize for statements he made in December 2013 that said no further development could happen downtown unless the city addressed problems with sewer, water and electric capacity. "Matthes' comments and subsequent action by city staff and council approving intensive residential development projects downtown created confusion for voters and taxpayers," it says.
The report also lists 13 other specific actions it says city officials should take:
- Re-establish a recently dismantled task force to monitor infrastructure capacity.
- Establish a Blue Ribbon Commission of experts to help plan for future infrastructure needs.
- Hire an independent infrastructure consultant.
- Develop a report card to gauge the city’s progress on a wastewater improvement plan created by consultants Black and Veatch in 2004.
- Develop a formula for identifying how much money is spent on maintaining infrastructure and how much is spent on expansion.
- Establish a formula for development fees that considers the cost of providing adequate infrastructure. A proposal to increase Columbia development fees will appear on the November ballot.
- Re-establish the Sufficiency of Services test. Until 1988, the city conducted a sufficiency of services test to ensure that there is adequate infrastructure for any proposed residential projects.
- Improve communication between the city’s Public Works and Community Development departments.
- Implement a geographic information system that will allow 3-D modeling of downtown buildings and infrastructure to facilitate better planning.
- Update the H3 Charette, a 2009 review of downtown planning issues.
- Create a depreciation fund for the purpose of making infrastructure renewal and replacements.
- Begin budgeting for major future projects.
- Exhaust all potential sources of revenue before asking voters for a tax increase.
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.