The Columbia City Council talked over the road, park and public safety projects they want to make a priority for the next 10 years in an evening work session Wednesday. Without reaching any final decisions, council members shuffled one road project — an extension of Smiley Lane — out of the mix in favor of building a new distribution center for road salt.
The council plans to present these projects and others to voters in November as a package of ballot initiatives that would cost taxpayers more than $100 million if approved.
The council confirmed its wish to continue the one-quarter cent sales tax set to expire at the end of the year. If voters agree to extend the tax, 70 percent of the $50 million it’s projected to raise will fund road projects, leaving 30 percent for public safety programs.
The majority of the public safety funds — about $13 million of $15 million total — would fund additional equipment and facilities for the fire department. The remaining $2 million would buy a shooting range for the police department and several new warning sirens throughout the city.
The council also considered a $25 million list of park projects presented by Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hood. According to Hood, the department’s top two priorities for development are a “south regional park acquisition” and the creation of a permanent facility for a farmers market.
The list of 18 road projects, totaling $84 million, fell by one when a planned extension of Smiley Lane was dropped to clear room for the construction of a $680,000 salt distribution center.
The council previously discussed an increase of the development fee to pay for the road projects. The current rate of 10 cents per square foot of new development would be raised to a maximum of 50 cents per square foot over 10 years, under one proposal.
Though the council briefly discussed alternatives proposed by the Chamber of Commerce and Board of Realtors that would have the city work with the county to fund roadwork, it ultimately rebuffed the measures by deciding to postpone any joint tax initiatives until the future.
“The funding is needed today,” City Manager Ray Beck said. “We need to get working on streets.”
Before formally introducing the tax proposal as a city ordinance, the council plans to hold two open meetings. The dates and locations were not set but the Activity and Recreation Center and several schools were mentioned as possible locations.
In addition, the council approved a survey, at the cost of between $5,000 and $8,000, to gauge public opinion on the tax issues.
In another work session scheduled for June 27, the council is set to further review the tax initiatives under consideration.