Proposed Columbia business district debated

Pictured is a map showing the proposed Columbia Centre Business District.

A Columbia City Council Committee of the Whole meeting at which the potential establishment of a Columbia Centre Business District was on the agenda drew a crowd including Columbia Centre developer Joe Koppeis, a vehement opponent of creating such a district.

“The issue I have is not necessarily related to the tax increase,” Koppeis stated in a letter he gave to the aldermen, mayor, city administrator, city attorney and other city officials at the meeting. “I will be happy to support a tax increase on all of the businesses in the community, if it is really needed.”

Two weeks ago, the idea of a Columbia Centre Business District was first broached by introducing how a business district could benefit the area. This week, the potential detriments to the area were the focus.

Creating a business district in the Columbia Centre shopping plaza would generate dedicated revenue for use in improving infrastructure around and within by lodging an additional 1 percent sales tax in Columbia Centre only.

Columbia’s current sales tax rate is 7.5 percent. The increase to 8.5 percent would align it with Waterloo’s Waterloo Commons, which, like Columbia Centre, has a Schnucks, McDonald’s and Tequila’s. Other popular shopping areas nearby have higher rates including Fairview Heights, at 8.85 percent, and Belleville, at 9.1 percent.

The tax revenue generated in a business district can only be used within the district. This provides dedicated funds for municipalities with many areas of need and limited ways to fund them.

City monies can only be used for very specific purposes. Motor fuel tax funds are restricted to road work. Water and sewer receipts must be spent within that department.

There is little wiggle room in the general fund to address improvements to roadways, to install sidewalks or extend walking trails and additional quality of life improvements. Of course, grants exist, and city engineer Chris Smith is aggressive in seeking them, but they all require community contribution, usually about 20 percent of the project total. And that 20 percent can dry up a city’s coffers pretty quickly.

One looming problem in the Columbia Centre area is the imminent reconstruction of the intersection at Veterans Parkway, which bears the brunt of traffic into and out of Columbia Centre and is estimated to cost about $1.3 million.

“If you spend the money on that intersection in six, eight, 10 years, you’re taking money away from other areas of the city that also have needs,” Smith said of the impending need to fund work there without business district revenue.

But Koppeis believes Columbia is responsible for funding that and other such improvements.

“The areas you would like to improve are already your obligation to maintain and improve,” Koppeis said…>>>

Read the rest of this story in the July 12 issue of the Republic-Times.

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