The language of a proposed roll cart measure the Columbia City Council will consider placing on the November ballot is pretty clear:

Vote “yes” if you want to allow the city to use roll carts. Vote “no” if you don’t.

The measure drafted by the city’s Law Department would authorize, but not require, the city to convert to the use of roll carts and automated collection of trash and recycling. The City Council at its July 20 meeting voted 4-3 to ask for the language. If it makes the ballot and voters approve it, the measure would repeal three sections of the city code that now prohibit the use of roll carts in Columbia.

The ordinance calling for the special election will be introduced for first reading Monday night. A final vote would be scheduled for the council’s Aug. 17 meeting. The deadline for certifying issues for the November ballot is Aug. 25.

Fifth Ward Councilman Matt Pitzer led the charge for the ballot measure at the July 20 meeting, saying it’s time to “junk” the way the city collects trash and recycling now. The utility has been in dire straits in recent years as it struggles to retain staff, particularly those with commercial driver’s licenses, and with the expense of using temporary workers and paying worker compensation claims.

The problems peaked this summer, when the city suspended curbside collection of recycling indefinitely. City Manager John Glascock in his proposed budget for fiscal 2021 has proposed permanently eliminating that service, a move that would save the city about $1.35 million per year. Glascock also recommends the city stop distributing blue recycling bags and black garbage bags to Columbia households. That would save another $350,000 per year.

The council is scheduled to introduce another ordinance Monday that would authorize both those cuts. A final reading and vote would be scheduled for Aug. 17.

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Betsy Peters at a May work session asked the staff to produce a report comparing the cost of the current trash and recycling service with one that uses roll carts and with the option of contracting with a private collector. The staff is still working to produce that report.

The Law Department said in its memo to the council regarding the potential roll cart vote that it could cost about $200,300 to put the issue on the November general election ballot. Voters already will be casting ballots on candidates for a host of public offices, including county, state and congressional seats as well as president of the United States. Two proposed amendments to the Missouri Constitution also are scheduled for November votes.

Glascock said during his July 24 budget presentation that without a rate increase the solid waste utility would be in the red by fiscal 2024.

Roll carts have been specifically prohibited in Columbia since voters in March of 2016 approved a citizen initiative to block the City Council from considering them. That measure passed with 54% of the vote. Mayor Brian Treece at the July 20 meeting expressed reservations about putting the issue to another vote, but Pitzer and Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas said a lot has changed in the 4½ years since the measure passed.

Also Monday, the council is scheduled to hear a report during its 6 p.m. work session on a potential vote to extend, and perhaps make permanent, a one-eighth-cent sales tax that primarily pays for capital projects in the Parks and Recreation Department. Voters last agreed to extend the tax in 2015. The city also has a permanent one-eighth-cent sales tax that helps fund operations of the parks department.

A PowerPoint presentation prepared for the council suggests it also consider whether to ask voters for an additional quarter-cent parks sales tax, which would generate a little more than $5.5 million per year. That, the presentation says, would free up general fund money for other departments and would boost the total sales tax rate for parks to the half-cent maximum authorized by the state.

The agenda for the council’s regular meeting also includes:

  • that would authorize an agreement between the Columbia/Boone County Department of Health and Human Services and the Boone County Commission to provide federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding to hire temporary workers to do COVID-19 contact tracing.
  • from the county commission to provide additional assistance to businesses in Columbia, in the county’s smaller towns and in rural areas of the county. That aid would come in the form of micro-enterprise and small-business recovery loans that could benefit about 60 businesses. The report says allowing the Housing Programs Division to administer those grants would be an efficient way to distribute the loans because it already has systems in place to do so.
  • A public hearing and vote on whether to spend $815,000 to build an indoor pavilion at A. Perry Philips Park.

The council’s regular meeting begins at 7 p.m. in its chambers at the Daniel Boone City Building, 701 E. Broadway.

  • I've been a reporter and editor at Missouri community newspapers for 35 years and joined the Columbia Missourian in 2003. My emphasis at the Missourian is on local government and elections. You can reach me at swaffords@missouri.edu or at 573-884-5366.

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