Seven on Sixth await city’s ruling on tax bills

Friday, June 8, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:25 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

A group of property owners along Sixth Street might be excluded from city tax bills intended to help cover the cost of improvements to the street that were made more than three years ago.

The city in 2003 spent more than $300,000 to rebuild Sixth Street between Hickman Avenue and Wilkes Boulevard. Repairs included new pavement, curbs, gutters, waterlines, sidewalks and storm sewers. Three years later, the city announced it would bill property owners along the street to help recoup the costs of the project and to compensate the city for the increased values of those properties.

Several owners protested, however, saying they had not purchased their property until after the work was done and thus should not be liable for the extra taxes. They also cited as precedent a City Council decision to exclude some property owners along Sunflower Street in northwest Columbia, who argued after street improvements there that the city had done nothing to boost the value of their property.

City staff on Monday submitted a report to the council suggesting that the owners of seven properties could be excluded from the tax bills because they bought their land and homes after the street work was done. The council accepted the report but opted to make no decision until its June 18 meeting.

The tax bills cited in the report range from $562.50 to $1,200 and total $6,750.

Mike Martin, who owns two properties along North Sixth Street, said he is pleased the council is re-evaluating the issue and trying to be fair.

“The owners are not objecting to the taxes because they don’t want to pay their fair share,” Martin said. “They’re objecting because they’re being overtaxed with a combination of county, city and federal taxes in addition to the tax bills. It’s a major stress on the residents.”

Martin said the taxes are “ridiculous,” especially in a neighborhood identified as low income.

Martin believes the council should apply a similar method to North Sixth Street as it did with Sunflower Street more than a year ago. The council voted to decrease or eliminate the tax assessments for almost half the properties affected by the city’s five-year tax assessment delay for Sunflower Street.

The total tax bill for 28 properties along the section of the Sixth Street work was $21,409.50. The city used federal Community Development Block Grant money to help five property owners cover nearly $5,000 of that, community development coordinator Tom Lata said. To qualify, Lata said those owners had to meet income guidelines.

North Sixth Street homeowner Lisa Gramlich said that even though she paid no taxes out of pocket, she was upset by having to send paperwork for the federal money to the state. Block grant money covered her entire tax bill.

“The city provided us with paperwork to send to the state,” Gramlich said. “Why didn’t the city go directly to the state?”

The city also used $249,770 in block grant money to pay for most of the street work. The Sixth Street project cost a total of $324,698.

Mike Crist, administrator with Columbia Community Development Corp., supported the street construction despite the enforced taxes. The corporation owns property along North Sixth Street and strives to improve the condition of homes in the area.

“I support any investment to improve the neighborhood,” Crist said. “The reinvestment in the commons is for the public good.”

Martin agreed, saying he is delighted the city took care of the work. “The conditions before the improvements were deplorable,” he said.

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