COLUMBIA — Holding out for a better agreement with property owners in the Henderson Branch watershed, the Columbia City Council at its regular Monday meeting denied in a 3-3 vote a motion to go forward with the design plans for the Henderson Branch Sewer project.
The council instead voted for City Manager Mike Matthes to continue negotiations with interested parties before bringing the project proposal back to the council.
The project would extend a $4.3 million, 1.6-mile sewer line to the Midway area. The city has spent $150,000 on the design for the project so far, and it would cost an estimated total of $300,000.
Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser, who made the motion to follow through with the design plans, said that stalling longer would only increase costs. She brought up the recently-opened Scott Boulevard, which was under construction for six years.
"I will at least support moving forward with the design so we can get a true and accurate reflection of what these costs are gonna be, and that will give the city manager the opportunity to negotiate with property owners," Nauser said.
But other council members said they aren't as close as they'd hoped to be on a more equitable public-private partnership on the project, which would extend sewer service to the Midway area. They wanted more specifics on what MidwayUSA owner Larry Potterfield and other business and property owners would do to help out the city before they use tax dollars to enhance their businesses.
Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said he thought deliberation on the project would go smoother if Potterfield and the other property owners made the agreement more attractive to the city.
"My prediction would be that it would sail through without a whole lot of opposition," Skala said. "But I certainly would like to see some bulk to the 'private' part of this public-private partnership."
Before the meeting, Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas said that he, like Skala, thought Potterfield could consider donating property for use by the city.
The project was initially approved as part of a $32 million sewer bond ballot issue that won voters' favor in 2013. The cost ballooned from an estimated $2.6 million to $4.3 million after the land was surveyed, leaving the council wondering whether approval would properly represent voters' wishes.
"I have every intention to honor that commitment (to voters) ... but the picture had changed since then," Skala said.
Potterfield has said he would consider moving his ammunition and gun accessory business — along with its 450 jobs — if the project doesn't move forward. The property uses a sewage treatment plant, but Potterfield has said he would be unable to meet ammonia treatment requirements that will take effect in 2018.
The sewer line would eliminate the need for at least two treatment facilities that pump an estimated 17,500 gallons of effluent per day into the Henderson Branch watershed, according to a Friday memo from city staff to the council.
Potterfield thus far has guaranteed no assistance on the cost of the sewer line. If the line is built, sales and property tax revenue from MidwayUSA and surrounding businesses — including the Midway Truck and Travel Plaza and the database technology company Faircom — would generate nearly $500,000 in annual revenue, according to the staff memo.
Because streets in the area are either private or owned by the federal or state government, the city would not have to maintain them. The memo said the additional police and fire costs are hard to calculate but would be minimal.
Thomas disagreed saying the analysis didn't take into account the police and fire stations that would eventually have to be built to accommodate the area as it develops.
"The taxpayer loses out big time on the one-time infrastructure cost of providing police and fire to a newly annexed area," Thomas said.
Columbia resident Martha Brownlee said the annexation would only further the burden placed on police and fire officials because they would have to take calls from a larger area.
"Common sense tells us that when you're adding onto that I think that's going to be burdensome," Brownlee said.
Thomas said he'd also like to see a plan in place to guide development and prevent sprawl in the Henderson Branch watershed if it is annexed and the sewer line is in place. Thomas said before the meeting that growth in the area would create pressure on the city to build an expensive bridge over Perche Creek.
If approved, the sewer would be funded by $2.6 million in sewer bond revenue, about $1.1 million from the sewer utility enterprise fund and $628,047 from the Boone County Regional Sewer District.