The candidates for three seats on the Columbia City Council are split on whether the proliferation of transportation development districts is a healthy means of financing street improvements in the city.
TDDs generate money for street work by charging extra taxes on retail sales within their boundaries. TDDs have sprouted up all over Columbia as developers seek a way to cover the cost of major street projects. Some notable examples of road work financed, in whole or in part, by TDDs are the extension of Vandiver Drive to U.S. 63 near Bass Pro Shops, the street changes surrounding the new Wal-Mart on West Boulevard and the pending creation of a major interchange and accompanying projects at and around Gans Road and U.S. 63.
So when someone buys a $100 fishing rod at Bass Pro, for example, they’ll pay 50 cents toward the cost of the roads that got them there.
In total, there are more than a dozen TDDs in the city. They are created by a complex process under state statutes and form boards of directors that constitute public governmental bodies under the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Law.
Mayor Darwin Hindman, who’s running for a fifth term, noted that TDDs are not a creation of the city, but instead are governed by state statutes.
“The reason that the legislature provided for TDDs is people who wanted to develop found it was too hard to get voters to approve construction of streets near their developments,” Hindman said. “So they just went around the cities and went to the legislature.”
Hindman’s challenger, John Clark, said TDDs are a lousy way to pay for street work.
“TDDs that are allowed to use sales taxes to finance improvements without an explicit requirement of local government approval are a direct usurpation of local government authority and capacity to meet local government responsibilities to their citizens,” he said. “Absent control and veto power by local governments, TDDs should only be allowed to finance improvements with property taxes.”
Fourth Ward candidate Mike Holden said he generally favors TDDs, as long as they are done well.
“I am in favor of the city taking active, even proactive, action in how TDDs are done,” Holden said. “The attitude the city has taken has been a laissez faire attitude.”
Holden said that a good TDD is one that “doesn’t just look at the road in front of it.” For example, Holden mentioned that the TDD on Stadium Boulevard between Worley and Ash streets could be expanded to include all of Stadium between West Broadway and I-70 Drive Southwest to allow for traffic improvements in the entire area.
“If we are going to look at TDDs as the method of funding infrastructure, (this approach) would be more of a comprehensive look,” he said.
Holden’s opponent, Jerry Wade, said he is “very concerned” about TDDs. He said that while they create money for infrastructure in a very efficient manner, he worries about their use of sales tax.
“All the TDDs, that I’m aware, have used sales tax as the method of generating the money. They have put the sales tax rate over 8 percent. That’s too high.”
Wade also worries about the burden TDDs place on the broader community.
“Those who pay the tax have no representation in the decision,” Wade said. “That’s a real problem for me.”
Hindman acknowledged the “no taxation without representation” argument but said there’s another side to the story.
“They are building infrastructure that the city would probably end up having to build, and they’re saving the city money in that respect,” Hindman said. “Basically, we don’t have any choice.”
In the Third Ward, candidate Gary Kespohl said he is not opposed to TDDs. Like Hindman, he said the city is powerless to do anything about them anyway.
Kespohl’s opponent, Karl Skala, said there are “good things and bad things” about TDDs. Two benefits, he said, are that non-resident shoppers end up contributing to infrastructure and that they generate money as development is happening.
But Skala said a big negative is that TDDs steal control from the city.
“It preempts the city’s ability to set our own priorities in terms of infrastructure,” he said. “The city no longer has authority. These extra-municipal entities are deciding for us. ... Planning is being driven by sales taxes, and that’s the opposite of what should be happening.”
Missourian reporters Sarah Koci, Conor McCann, Evita Timmons, Lindsay Toler, Brittany Darwell and Julie O’Brien contributed to this report.