MidwayUSA still is considering moving operations out of the state after a Columbia City Council vote Monday didn’t go in its favor, CEO Larry Potterfield said this week.
After years of debate, the council did not approve an annexation and a $3.7 million sewer extension that would have provided services to MidwayUSA and the Midway Truck and Travel Plaza, which are outside city limits. The annexation, known as the Henderson Branch Watershed project, would have allowed the city to collect sales tax on the businesses, but the project’s critics said it was a bad deal for Columbia.
Potterfield first suggested he might move the arms company in 2014.
“That’s an option we have in front of us I’m hoping we don’t have to execute,” Potterfield said in an interview Tuesday, noting states such as Texas have strong incentive packages for businesses.
MidwayUSA employed 346 people in the Columbia area as of May 2017, according to information provided by the company to the Regional Economic Development, Inc.
The city council voted in favor of the sewer extension in 2017, but a vote Monday night to move forward failed on a 3-3 tie. First Ward Councilman Clyde Ruffin, who has supported the extension in the past, was absent from the meeting because of a family matter.
“Why would you vote on it with six members, knowing it would tie?” Potterfield asked . “It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t honest. Why would you do that except for politics?”
Potterfield said he expects the council to take up the matter again.
City spokesman Steven Sapp could not be reached for comment.
Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas consistently has voted against the project. He said in an email that the sewer and annexation measures would be better considered in a more holistic West Area Planning Project, to be launched “in the near future.”
“Obviously, Mr. Potterfield is free to set up his business wherever he chooses,” Thomas said. “Moving Midway Arms to another state would have a negative impact on his current employees, but building the Henderson Branch sewer would have a negative impact on more than 100,000 Columbia residents.”
Mayor Brian Treece was the deciding factor, changing his vote to a no on Monday.
The city planned to annex the Midway area, which would bring in an estimated $480,000 per year in sales taxes from Potterfield’s company and other businesses. However, landowners between MidwayUSA and the city limits wouldn’t sign annexation agreements. Without this annexation, the city would have only earned a projected $25,700 annually from the sewer extension.
“These types of annexation agreements provide us no revenue even though we’re obligated to deliver the services,” Treece said at the council meeting on Monday. “And there has to be some owner participation in the cost.”
Matt McCormick, the Chamber of Commerce president, spoke in favor of the sewer extension at the council meeting, and he said he plans to continue pushing for the project’s completion.
“We’re definitely disappointed,” McCormick said. “We expect these projects to be done.”
MidwayUSA and Midway Truck and Travel Plaza are both members of the Chamber.
Potterfield said the issue is important to him because MidwayUSA has an in-house sewer system, but by the end of the year it no longer will be in compliance with wastewater treatment regulations.
He added the Boone County Regional Sewer District doesn’t “know, and we don’t know, how to bring that system into compliance,” Potterfield said.
In 2017, Councilman Karl Skala said the sewer extension negotiations would go smoother if business owners made the deal more attractive to the city, and soon after Potterfield donated a 47-acre tract of land containing a house valued at more than $1 million.
When Potterfield donated the land, Skala said it was undeniably connected to the sewer project, but Potterfield still stands by his original claim the donation was simply a kind gesture to the city.
“What a great thing we did to give that to them,” Potterfield said Tuesday. “If it had been conditional, we would’ve made it conditional.”
Columbia voters approved a $32 million bond issue in 2013, which set aside $2.3 million for sewer extensions. After the bond passed, the estimated cost of the Henderson Branch project rose to $4.3 million, with the Boone County Regional Sewer District contributing around $600,000. That left the final estimated cost to the city at $3.7 million.
Proponents of the extension argued the city council was mandated by voters to fulfill the promises made in the bond. Dissenters argued voters didn’t agree to the higher cost.
“I think it’s up to the city council, and it’s up to the community to take the bond money and use it for the intended purpose,” Potterfield said.
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