Committee wary of rushed road taxes

Wednesday, December 1, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:10 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Transportation Finance Advisory Committee said Tuesday its study of road improvements is being rushed, and as a result all the options are not being fully considered. The study examines how Columbia should fund more than $480 million in road improvements through 2030.

Committee member Bob Pugh couldn’t be at the meeting, but a letter he wrote was distributed to the other attendees and set the tone for the meeting.

“I feel that the time table set by the City Council is unrealistic,” he wrote. “Furthermore, the scope of our considerations is too limited. The recommendations as they stand today will be met with considerable opposition and likely rejected by the voters.”

Consultants hired by the city estimated the $480 million price tag for improving existing roads and building new ones to service future development. They also recommended three potential funding mechanisms: an increase in the capital improvement sales tax from 1/4 of a cent to 1/2 cent, an excise tax of $3,860 on new homes built on the city’s outskirts and an increase in the city’s property tax.

The committee, which was formed to study and refine these recommendations, agreed Tuesday that a combination of these three options is the best way to fund the road improvements, but it also had concerns about each component.

Several committee members were concerned that raising the property tax to pay for roads could limit future increases to pay for Columbia’s schools. Committee member Dale Whitman said he believes taxpayers would stomach no more than an 1/8-cent sales tax increase.

There is also concern about the amount of the excise tax, but the majority of the members favored a regressive system based on square footage, which places the greatest financial burden on the largest homes. The possibility of credits and waivers was also discussed.

“I don’t think that you can build welfare into the tax rate, but I do think that there should be considerations by the city and other agencies that alleviate the burden of these taxes on those that they will affect most,” committee member Clyde Wilson said.

Pugh’s letter also said the committee needs to look at the city’s growth policies and consider whether the city could reduce the costs of building new roads by encouraging higher density growth closer to downtown. This is not part of the committee’s charge, but committee member Mike Martin recommended asking the mayor and the council to broaden its scope.

Originally, the committee hoped to wrap up its work by Nov. 22, in time for an April ballot measure. The council, however, gave up on that deadline at a Monday work session, said City Manager Ray Beck.

“We’re not tied to an April election,” Beck said. “It’s more important to do a thorough job.” At Tuesday’s meeting, however, committee members said that it would be a stretch to make the August ballot, suggesting that a November 2005 ballot measure — if that — may be more realistic.

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