Tens of thousands of people use Columbia’s roads every day, but only one showed up to speak at a meeting Thursday about how the city should pay for anticipated transportation improvements.
Members of the Transportation Finance Advisory Committee heard public comment before discussing options for creating a comprehensive transportation funding plan for the city. The City Council has asked the committee to prepare a plan before the council’s Nov. 15 meeting.
The lone spokesman
John Clark, a lawyer and accountant, was the only person to speak during the public input period and presented the committee with eight specific recommendations on how it should develop a transportation funding plan. He suggested the committee expand its membership, plan for the city’s transportation needs beyond roads and take more time to prepare a comprehensive transportation funding plan.
The committee has an opportunity to improve the way the city plans for funding transportation, but the rush to put a plan before the City Council in November could ruin this chance, Clark said after the meeting.
“I’m afraid that based on the time pressure, it will be an extremely narrow set of recommendations that cannot garner the broad-based necessary support,” Clark said. “And even if it does, it will have the effect of continuing the piecemeal approach to considering funding and will set us up for more and more problems with funding other necessary infrastructure.”
At Thursday’s meeting, the committee members stopped short of drafting specific recommendations but identified several tax-based options for paying for road improvements.
Based on the condition of the city’s roads and growth projections, Columbia officials have identified $581 million worth of road projects they would like to see in the next 25 years, according to an Oct. 7 report prepared for the committee by an outside consultant. Completing all of the projects identified by the city would more than double the city’s budget for maintenance and construction on non-state roads to an estimated $20.1 million annually.
Steve Chinn, a consultant with Stinson, Morrison and Hecker LLC, identified three categories of improvements among the projects identified by the city. He proposed alternatives for paying for these improvements in a second report for the committee dated Oct. 28.
The road projects identified by the city include a mix of routine maintenance, improvements based on existing problems and new road construction resulting from growth.
To pay for routine maintenance, Chinn suggested the city use revenue from a transportation sales tax. The city has a permanent half-cent sales tax that is used to fund various transportation projects.
Chinn also suggested the city impose a capital improvements sales tax. This type of tax has a five-year limit and must be renewed by ballot initiative that specifies what projects it will fund. The city imposes a .25 percent tax that will expire in 2005. Capital improvements sales tax has been used in the past to generate revenue for roads, parks, fire fighting equipment and the Activity and Recreation Center.
To cover the cost of new road construction, Chinn presented a choice between an excise tax and an impact fee. An excise tax would raise revenue by levying a tax on a particular activity, such as construction, whereas an impact fee is a one-time charge imposed on new development to cover the cost of the roads in the area. Although both would generate the same amount of revenue, the excise tax would be simpler to set up because it would not apply to specific areas, Chinn said.
Chinn has worked with seven other cities to develop comprehensive plans for paying for long-term transportation improvements. In almost every case, the cities have adopted an excise tax over an impact fee.
City officials think that specifying different options to pay for different types of road improvement will ensure that the people who use the roads bear the costs.
“That is the rationale for funding each part, so that the person that needs that (part) — that creates that (part) — pays,” said Bill Watkins, the city’s interim planning and development director.
The committee will prepare a draft funding plan before its next meeting on Nov. 11. The plan could go before the city council at its Nov. 15 meeting. Because the tax proposals require voter approval, city officials hope to have ballot initiatives ready for the April election.