Utility bonds pass

Wednesday, November 5, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:39 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

This version has been corrected from the original to fix mistakes.

Flushing your toilet just got a bit more expensive — water and sewer bills are going up.

Capping a campaign that featured a public conversation on the role of sewers in determining growth, Columbia and Boone County voters Tuesday overwhelmingly approved two bond issues that will allot more than $20 million to sewer upgrades and extensions over the next eight years.

Columbia voters also approved a water revenue bond issue that will provide millions of dollars to increase the capacity of the city’s water-distribution system.

The election had a low turnout.

City and county voters approved all three measures by an average margin of more than 40 percent.

The vote broke down like this:

  • Proposition 1, the city's $18.5 million sewer bond issue, passed by a vote of 4,878 in favor to 2,578 opposed. It will incrementally raise average monthly residential sewer bills by $2.15 over the next five years. The issue will pay for sewer repairs and upgrades, plus several new lines.
  • Proposition 2, the city's $28.3 million water bond issue, passed with 5,328 votes in favor and 2,120 votes against. It will incrementally raise average monthly residential water bills by $4.01 over the next six years. The issue will pay for an expansion of the water treatment at McBaine and will help boost pressure and improve reliability to some areas of Columbia.

The Boone County Regional Sewer District's $3.85 million bond issue, called "Question" on the ballot, passed by a vote of 7,555 in favor and 3,096 against. It will incrementally raise average residential bills for district customers $6.81 over the next eight years. The bond issue will allow the district to close several sewer lagoons by hooking the neighborhoods they serve onto city sewers.

Although the water bond issue was uncontroversial, some community groups criticized the sewer proposals, arguing they will pave the way for growth by increasing pumping capacity and extending new lines into undeveloped areas. City officials countered that the bonds would pay only for routine maintenance, necessary upgrades and extensions into areas that are inevitable targets for growth.

Most hotly debated was the city’s plan to spend $6 million — nearly one-third of the bond proceeds — to extend sewers into developing areas. City policy says lines will be extended only at the request of developers, so it’s impossible to say yet where the money will be spent.

Members of the Boone County Smart Growth Coalition and the Ozark Chapter of the Sierra Club said sewer extensions promote urban sprawl and encourage development in environmentally sensitive watersheds, including that of Clear Creek just south of the city and near the 489-acre Philips farm, where extensive development has been proposed.

Some voters on Tuesday agreed, saying they shouldn’t have to pay for the city to grow. Columbia resident Corinne Koenig voted against all three propositions.

“The builders and contractors should be more responsible for sewer and water lines,” she said. “They are trying to make the city so big, I can’t see how they are going to fill all the apartments and condos that they are planning to build.”

John Taylor, a 30-year resident of Columbia, voted in favor of all three issues, arguing the area will grow even without city-provided utilities.

“We gotta have sewers and we gotta have water,” he said. “(Growth) has been coming piecemeal all the time. As humans expand, we’ve got to expand with them.”

The Boone County Regional Sewer District’s projects were less scrutinized.

The district’s $3.85 million bond issue, when added to an existing balance of $1.7 million from a similar bond issue from 1997, will allow the elimination of lagoons serving Sunrise Estates and El Chaparral by hooking those neighborhoods onto the Columbia sewer system. Several voters interviewed Tuesday said lagoons threaten public health.

Frances Hejadorn of El Chaparral said the “lagoons have to go.” Her neighborhood’s sewage drains into the county’s largest lagoon.

Mark Semar of Sunrise Estates said environmental concerns prompted him to vote for the district’s bond issue.

“We need to improve these sewers and get rid of lagoons in this neighborhood,” he said.

Rian Sleeth, also of Sunrise Estates, voted against the measure.

“I think the system is OK as it is,” he said. “There are better ways to use the money.”

Both the city and the sewer district formed committees that spoke to community groups to drum up support for the bond issues over the past few months.

Sewer district manager Tom Ratermann said he wasn’t surprised voters supported the district’s bond issue.

“Boone County voters have a long history of supporting environmental issues. This was just another example,” he said.

City Manager Ray Beck said he was “really pleased” voters approved the city projects, especially the sewer bond issue.

“We’ll be able to move forward with our sewer projects,” he said. “It will ensure orderly growth of the city.”

Officials said utility customers won’t see changes in their bills for many months. City bills won’t increase until October, and district customers probably won’t see increases until the district board approves its new budget in January.

While the city’s water and sewer projects are slated be done over the next five to six years, and the sewer district has an eight-year timetable for finishing its new workload, work on the most important projects will most likely begin soon.

Beck said the city still has to put all its projects through public hearings and city council approval, although preliminary engineering plans are in place. Ratermann said the district will hopefully have some projects under way by summer 2004.

Missourian reporters Kelly Snowden, Rebecca Loveridge, Erica Hunzinger, Jenn Day and Jeff Wells contributed to this report.

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