Columbia voters approve Community Improvement District tax

The new rate will take effect April 1.


Boone County Clerk Columbia attorney Skip Walther, the chair of the CID’s board of directors Special Business District Keep Columbia Free Eapen Thampy and Mitch Richards CID Executive Director Carrie Gartner

Sugghead1: Downtown voters approve new sales tax Sugghead2: Downtown voters back sales tax increase in vote by mail Cdek: The new rate will take effect April 1. Webhead: Columbia voters approve Community Improvement District tax

Wes Duplantier Senior Staff Writer

Students shopping downtown might see a slight bump in the what they spend next semester after a small number of Columbia voters approved an additional one-half percent sales tax for downtown earlier this week.
Voters supported the proposed tax 25-15 in an election conducted by mail over the last two weeks, according to results posted Tuesday night to the Boone County Clerk’s website. The new tax would add about five cents to the cost of a $10 purchase. It is slated to take effect April 1 and would bring sales tax in the downtown area to about 7.85 percent. The tax revenue would be used to pay for improvements such as free WiFi service and sidewalk snow removal during winter months, according to a sample ballot on the Community Improvement District’s website.

Columbia attorney Skip Walther, the chair of the CID’s board of directors, said the district has been surveying downtown business owners and residents for several years to understand what improvements the area needs to be competitive with other local shopping districts.

“We concluded that there were a number of services that could be enhanced and things that could be improved,” he said. “What we learned was that we couldn’t do those things without additional revenue.”

The CID was previously known as the Special Business District. Under state law, a Special Business District can levy property taxes and business license fees on area businesses. A Community Improvement District also has the authority to levy a sales tax if area voters approve.

Walther said the Special Business District had to change to a new type of entity to generate the income for the improvements businesses desired.

“Those revenue sources provided a relatively static level of income, but it wouldn’t be enough to do those new things,” he said.

About 121 voters were eligible to vote on the proposed tax because they are registered at addresses within the boundaries of the downtown Community Improvement District. The district’s boundaries cover most of the downtown shopping area, but runs north of the MU campus and many student residences, meaning many students were not eligible to vote on the issue. The fact that the vote was limited to such a small number of people was one reason it drew criticism from Keep Columbia Free, a local civil liberties group.

In a letter posted to the group’s website, group members Eapen Thampy and Mitch Richards said taxes in the downtown area should be lowered and that the proposed improvements are unnecessary.

“We’re in a major economic recession,” Richards, the group’s treasurer, said in an interview Wednesday. “It doesn’t seem right to be taking money out of the community at this time.”

Walther said the increase brings sales tax downtown to the same level that it is in other commercial areas around Columbia, some of which have their own sales taxes in addition to city and state taxes.

But Richards said the tax increase still isn’t justified.

“That’s the same thing that they said when they raised the parking fees downtown, that ‘other municipalities did it, so why shouldn’t we?’” he said. “I fail to see that as a reasonable justification.”

In their letter, Thampy and Richards suggested that if the tax were implemented, the revenue it generates should instead be used to add more police and fire protection for the district.

CID Executive Director Carrie Gartner said the city, not the district, decides how many firefighters or police officers will serve parts of Columbia.

“All this is over and above what the city provides,” Gartner said, referring to the CID’s proposed improvements. “It’s not our place to fund more police officers and firefighters.”

Richards also said members of Keep Columbia Free might attend CID meetings to advocate for ways the tax revenue should be spent.

Gartner said those meetings would be open to the public and that the district’s board wants to hear input from residents, property owners and businesspeople.

“It’s not just 15 people sitting in a room alone making decisions,” she said, referring to the CID’s board. “It’s the downtown community.”

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