Current Issues

On this page, I provide information about current and emerging issues, and ask for your input through online surveys. The results of previous surveys are also available.

Moving Forward with a Community Engagement Process about Policing

(posted July 16th, 2017)

As has been discussed in several previous posts (see below), the Columbia Police Department (CPD) currently faces serious challenges that are hindering its ability to provide optimal crime prevention and protection to the community.

With this in mind, the City Council unanimously adopted Resolution R28-17 earlier this year, which calls for a "Community Engagement Process about Policing in Columbia that addresses staffing levels, officer safety and morale, and community-oriented policing.” Shortly after that, I worked with Council colleagues Michael Trapp and Laura Nauser, and City Manager Mike Matthes to design and implement a Stakeholder Survey to collect input from all of the groups we could think of that have an interest in this process. Responses were received from about 30 groups, listed below.

City of Columbia stakeholders:

  • Columbia Police Department
  • Columbia Police Officers' Association
  • Social Equity Team
  • Neighborhood Outreach Team
  • Citizens Police Review Board
  • Commission on Human Rights
  • Mayor's Task Force on Community Violence
  • Columbia Neighborhood Watch
  • Crimestoppers

Community organizations:

  • Columbia NAACP
  • Minority Men's Network
  • Youth Empowerment Zone
  • Race Matters, Friends
  • Empower Missouri
  • Columbia Faith Voices
  • Diversity Awareness Partnership
  • Association of Black Graduate and Professional Students
  • Centro Latino
  • Refugee and Immigration Services

Other institutions:

  • Columbia Chamber of Commerce
  • Columbia Public Schools
  • Heart of Missouri United Way
  • Central Missouri Community Action
  • Columbia Housing Authority
  • Boone County Commission
  • Columbia Missourian

Every one of these groups stated that they support the resolution and almost all of them asked to be included in the process. Through their complete survey responses, they also provided invaluable input on who else should be engaged, what type of process/event should be organized, what the goals should be, and who should be invited to speak.

Based on this input, Heart of Missouri United Way and New Chapter Coaching were invited to prepare a proposal for convening and facilitating a "Community Engagement Process about Policing.” In 2015 and 2016, these organizations worked together to perform similar roles (convene a diverse group of stakeholders, plan an inclusive public forum, include educational/informational presentations from content experts, facilitate honest and open community conversations, and develop public policy recommendations that have community support) for the Affordable Housing Symposium and the Homelessness Summit. Both of these events led to important policy advances that are popular with stakeholders and the community. In response to our invitation, United Way and New Chapter Coaching worked with a third consultant, Menifield and Associates, to develop a project proposal.

Michael Trapp, Laura Nauser, Mike Matthes and I believe this is a very good proposal, which will accomplish the goals laid out in the original Council Resolution, and so we are bringing it forward to the full City Council. Tomorrow (Monday, July 17th), there will be a public hearing and vote on approving a contract with the consultants to implement this scope of work. I hope you will attend or email all the members of the City Council to indicate your support for this proposal.

Time for a Community Engagement Process about Policing

(posted February 19th, 2017)

Public safety is the first and most important role of local government. Therefore, we need to recognize and respond to the fact that the Columbia Police Department (CPD) currently faces serious challenges that are hindering its ability to provide optimal protection to the community. These include a staffing shortage, low officer morale, and communication issues.

The only way we can address these complex and inter-related threats to public safety is to come together as a community of families, businesses, police officers, and institutions, and have an honest conversation about the kind of policing we want. I believe we will all agree on the importance of having a properly-resourced police department that is respected, trusted, and supported throughout the community. After that, we will have to decide on an overall philosophy for policing in Columbia and how to pay for it.

Several recent studies have estimated that CPD staffing levels are 30-50 officers lower than comparable cities. While Columbia's population has been growing at 2-3% for many years, the City has failed to add police officers at the same rate - in part due to falling sales tax revenue. Compounding this problem, annexation and low-density development have expanded our city footprint to more than 65 square miles - a massive coverage area for a police force that averages just 12 patrol officers on duty at any time.

Our staffing shortage is evident in several ways. CPD experiences a condition known as "status zero" multiple times per day, meaning every on-duty officer is engaged in responding to emergency calls for service and the next call either goes on hold or pulls an officer away from an active case. As a result, CPD's average response time for emergency calls for service in 2015 was more than 18 minutes - by far the longest of 30 benchmark cities and three times longer than the average of those cities. And last year, when the City Council asked Chief Burton to implement a "community-oriented policing" pilot program in three neighborhoods, he was forced to dissolve the Traffic Unit in order to free up officer time for the proactive outreach and relationship-building work that characterizes community-oriented policing.

Unsurprisingly, officer morale is low. In the City's 2015 Work Force Engagement Survey, CPD reported the lowest morale of all 15 Departments. Further, 78% of officers surveyed by the Columbia Police Officers Association in 2016 reported that their morale has deteriorated in the last 3-5 years. Contributing to this distress and increasing the danger for police officers over recent years is a sharp rise in racial tension and violence between community members and police across the country. In order to respond to the concerns driving local unrest, it is essential that police and community leaders work together to understand and address the Attorney General's 2015 "Vehicle Stops Report" data, which show racial disparities in CPD's traffic stops and searches, and may indicate implicit bias or profiling.

One of the communication challenges we face is to prevent the conversation from descending into "binary thinking." This is not a conflict between the community and the police, and no-one has to choose whether to support anti-racism efforts or law enforcement. It's about Columbians coming together to build the kind of city in which we all feel safe, and to support our police officers who are charged with keeping it that way. Although effective communication between trained professionals and the public about complex issues can be hard, it is at the center of the solution to all of these challenges.

In 2014, the Mayor's Task Force on Community Violence (MTFCV) called for Columbia to adopt a comprehensive community-oriented policing philosophy and program - a call which has been repeated by several other groups. The distinguishing feature of community-oriented policing is a partnership between police professionals and neighborhood residents in which the two groups work together to deter criminal activity and to solve crimes quickly when they occur.

I recently had the opportunity to visit community-oriented policing programs in Gainesville, FL and Nashville, TN, and to speak with police officers and community leaders. My lasting impressions are that officers are excited about their work, they believe they are contributing to systemic improvements in their communities, the vast majority of residents "have their back," and crime levels are low. I also learned that these programs require an authentic community engagement process and higher staffing levels than we have in Columbia.

The MTFCV also recommended the City host "an annual forum involving neighborhood organizations, churches, public schools, CPD, Family Services Division and other interested parties to address crime, social need, and discrimination in our community." With that in mind, I have worked with my colleagues Laura Nauser and Mike Trapp (who co-chaired the MTFCV) to develop a Council Resolution, declaring the need to conduct a Community Engagement Process about Policing in Columbia that addresses staffing levels, officer safety and morale, and community-oriented policing, and directing the City Manager to provide staff support and other resources. Our goal will be to engage a broad range of community members and organizations in planning a public event or series of events which will include educational presentations, facilitated small-group discussions, and visioning.

The Resolution will be discussed and voted on during tomorrow's (February 20th) City Council meeting. I hope you will get behind this effort to support our police officers and to promote public safety, equitable economic development and overall quality of life in Columbia.

What Kind of Policing does Columbia Want?

(posted August 14th, 2016)

The Columbia Police Department (CPD) currently faces several major inter-dependent challenges:

  1. CPD is understaffed/overworked, officer morale is low, and recruitment is difficult.
  2. Officers describe an internal culture of blame and punishment, with mentorship and nurturing of less experienced officers discouraged.
  3. There is a dysfunctional relationship between CPD/City of Columbia management and the Columbia Police Officers' Association (CPOA).
  4. The Attorney General's annual "Vehicle Stops Report" shows racial disparities in CPD's traffic stops and searches, which may indicate implicit bias or profiling.
  5. Some senior CPD leaders and City administrators appear to be uncomfortable discussing America's history of racial discrimination and how it impacts modern social issues.
  6. Many community residents want CPD to adopt a community policing philosophy, which requires higher levels of staffing and training, and yields multiple societal benefits including enhanced crime prevention.
  7. Residents have low confidence in CPD leadership as demonstrated by the rejection of a proposed property tax increase in 2014.

Against a national backdrop of tension and violence between police officers and community residents, these challenges represent an extremely serious threat to Columbia. Therefore, it is essential that the City Council address the challenges of CPD understaffing, low morale, racial disparities in stops and searches, and low confidence in leadership.

With all of this in mind, I have developed a proposal for a comprehensive collaborative visioning process for the Columbia Police Department and community residents. Briefly, I envision the following two-step process.

Step 1 - Define the Process:

  • City Council appoints a steering committee of 12-15 key community stakeholders.
  • Steering committee meets for 2-3 months to define an open, transparent and engaging community process that addresses each of the challenges listed above.
  • City Council adopts the committee's recommendations for the planning process and moves to Step 2.

Step 2 - Implement the Process (since the process will be defined by the steering committee, the following are simply suggestions):

  • Name the process, “What Kind of a Policing does Columbia Want?”
  • Schedule multiple community gatherings in different neighborhoods over a 6-12 month period.
  • Attract 50-100 people to each meeting and tackle one topic at a time - racial disparities, community policing, officer morale, etc.
  • Engage skilled facilitator(s) to manage programs that could include brief informational presentations from experts followed by “World Cafe” style table discussions with all ideas captured and analyzed.
  • Steering committee continues to oversee process, review police officer reaction to community ideas, and develop long-term recommendations.

The people of Columbia want CPD to be stable, successful, and fully funded for the difficult and dangerous job we expect its officers to perform. I believe a process like this will accomplish that - in fact, I think it's the only way!

Response to Laura Nauser Recall Effort

(posted February 18th, 2016)

According to the Columbia Daily Tribune a Political Action Committee known as "Columbians for Responsible Government" has launched an effort to recall Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser because of her January 19 vote to delay moving forward with Option A for the transmission lines project. I voted with Laura on this question, because the City Council has not had access to the information we need about the relative costs to taxpayers or the private property impacts of the various Options, in order to make a fully informed decision.

While Laura and I have different political positions on many issues, I oppose this recall attempt by one segment of her constituents and based on one specific vote. She is an honest, transparent, and well-informed Council member who legislates in the best interests of her ward and the City as a whole.

Columbia Transmission Lines project

(posted February 7th, 2016)

Please read this Transmission Lines Discussion Document on how I believe the City Council should move forward on this important project.

Whichever route is ultimately decided, the South Columbia Transmission Lines project will cost tax-payers and rate-payers tens of millions of dollars. As I explained at the January 19th City Council meeting, I do not believe I have received adequate, detailed information to make a fair decision that balances the need for additional peak-time power and the financial and property impacts of various options. For that reason, I asked Council colleagues to hold off making a decision while we get more clarity on the costs and benefits to the public.

I have no personal preference for Option A, B, B-2, or anything else. I simply want to fulfil my role as an elected decision-maker by supporting the fairest and best long-term solution. The discussion document, which I sent to Council colleagues and City staff last week, outlines the issues as I understand them, the areas where I do not feel we have adequate information, and the questions I have for the engineers working on the project.

Race, Privilege, and Social Equity in Columbia

(posted December 13th, 2015)

In my November 15 newsletter, I discussed and tried to intrepret the recent racial tension and turmoil at the University of Missouri. I shared some of my thinking on how the City of Columbia should respond to an issue that's not confined to the MU campus, and I asked you for your opinions.

I decribed two distinct but closely-connected aspects of modern-day racism. In addition to enduring racial insults and assaults, minority people also suffer under institutional and cultural systems of oppression that are difficult for others to see. This latter, more sinister form of discrimination condemns its victims to generational poverty and bars their access to the American Dream, according to which everyone should be able to succeed by working hard and staying out of trouble.

My suggestions for ways the City of Columbia can address these challenges drew extensively from our recently adopted 2016-2019 Strategic Plan, which acknowledges the deep economic disparities between Black and White families in Columbia. The plan features, as its foundation, a goal of increasing social equity so that all Columbia residents have the opportunity to succeed in school, in the work place, and in life — a situation that does not exist today.

These were my proposals:

  1. A community policing philosophy that builds positive neighborhood relations and offers alternatives to arrest for non-violent youth offenders;
  2. Training and job creation for youth who are not college-bound, and investment in the local business economy, rather than sending a lot of money out of the community;
  3. A public transportation system that provides access to jobs and services for everybody - especially those that struggle with the cost of private automobile ownership;
  4. Policies that generate more affordable housing so that the thousands of working poor who cannot afford to own or rent a home in Columbia have better housing security;
  5. Equitable development charges and connection fees that cover the cost of expanding our public infrastructure systems, to keep the cost of living down.

I was delighted to receive almost 100 responses from you. Here are a few of your comments:

The physical and verbal assaults that have captured national attention, I feel, are simply escalations of long simmering Microinequities targeted at minorities and graduate students. Microinequities are those everyday behaviors, generally subtle and covert, used by majority populations to exert power over minorities. From an arched eyebrow to display irritation or disbelief to avoiding touching when returning change to a paying customer who is a minority, seemingly small actions all conveys a view of inferiority from the person with perceived power.

Based on my own observation and conversations with black students on campus, the protests are truly about solidarity on campus. The campus or the City of Columbia at large, to some students, are way more segregated than they expected, where black students are hanging out with black students, white students are always with white students, and Asians are chatting with Asians. For me, a student from Asia who has been in United States for a little more than three months, I did notice the segregation myself. And I have to ask whether it’s the case with the whole country or it’s just in here. According to my classmates, apparently, the racial problem in here is more serious than elsewhere in the country, and life can be especially hard for the black students who come from some other parts of America that are more diverse and inclusive.

I abhor racism and think those who engage in it should be dealt with harshly. However, I think the Curators made a huge mistake in allowing protestors to force the removal of the President and Chancellor. The Board could have accomplished much more by forcing the administrators to develop a plan, in conjunction with the student body, to deal with racism – giving the administrators a deadline to show results, and basing their pay on the outcome. I hope the protestors will use their new-found power wisely. If not, it will engender even more racism.

One of my problems with your thoughts and the thoughts of many is the immediate presumption that racism and hatred is a one way street. That all or most white folks have inherent racism and they must be somehow fixed. I reject that notion. Too many whites carry what is called "white guilt" and feel we must somehow atone for the sins of our fathers and forefathers. I reject that notion as well. In my previous line of work I can't tell you how often I encountered hatred towards myself and others because we were white.

White privilege is taken for granted by the majority that are often at an advantage in everyday life. I recently observed a white woman going through the checkout lane at a supermarket. She purchased well over $50 in groceries, handed the clerk a check, he looked at it and put it in the cash drawer. He thanked her for shopping at the store. The next person in line was a young, black man with about $25 in groceries. He handed the clerk a check and was asked for identification. The first person likely was unaware of her white privilege. The second person perhaps accepted the insult as a part of life, but may also have felt anger.

As you have already acknowledged, the questions that you raise are difficult ones and not ones that should be acted upon without a great deal of discussion. My concern is that the city does not go into this process by just focusing on the African-American population and ways to improve the situations of only those in that particular group. If that happens, then we are guilty of reverse racism and likely going down a pathway that will even increase the divides. There has to be a greater appreciation of other cultures across the board.

I am not sure how much City policy influences School District policy. Schools need to focus more on the students who are not college bound. We have focused primarily on the college bound (upper income class) students and done well. We need universal early childhood, age 3 on, education without fees. Presently at one elementary school with a fee charged and some scholarships.

We need a program of "trades/vocational training" in our High Schools that help kids to get jobs for work most of us can no longer do: carpentry, electrical, HVAC, plumbing, auto mechanics, etc. etc. Jobs that cannot be outsourced, and jobs and training that were once encouraged when I was in high school in the early 60's, and jobs that have good pay and allow for a middle class life. Of course, on this issue, I guess I need to argue with the School Board.

We would do well to promote a minimum wage that would allow someone to support at least themselves (and possibly a family). We must be judicious in using tax money for necessities first, and minimizing regressive taxes (such as sales taxes) and fees (such as pay-as-you-throw trash). Columbia has a lot of wealthy citizens and the gap between poor and rich has widened here, just as it has across the nation. Even though the majority of voters have approved recommended taxes, these tax increases continue to place a heavy burden on those who have lower wages.

The City should hire low skilled (un-skilled?) workers for some of the jobs done by volunteers. Volunteerism is a Reagan program designed to cut government spending. The City needs to hire people to be trained on the job.

Thank you for your engagement and let's keep the conversation going.

Transportation Projects to be funded by Capital Improvements Sales Tax

(posted June 7th, 2015)

In my May newsletter, I discussed the Capital Improvements Sales Tax, which is projected to raise $63 million over the next ten years if approved by voters in August. City staff developed an initial list, showing what they considered to be the highest priority projects that would be completed with these revenues - it consisted primarily of $23 million for public safety (replacement fire trucks and a new service center) and $31 million for three road expansions. One of these road expansions was a $13.7 million project to widen Forum Boulevard to 4 lanes between Woodrail and Chapel Hill - a distance of less than one mile.

I have certain reservations about continuing to invest tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer funds to widen roads and expand intersections:

  • First and foremost, we cannot afford it - not only does it cost nearly $14 million to widen a mile of roadway, but this creates additional maintenance costs at a time when we are already unable to keep up with required maintenance.
  • Second, it is well documented that road expansion does not solve congestion and, instead, encourages more driving and undermines efforts to promote efficient, economical, sustainable, and healthy modes such as walking, biking and public transit.
  • Third, Americans' transportation habits are changing dramatically - we're driving 10% less than we were a decade ago and young people (aged 18-30) are driving 30% less.
  • Fourth, we have an enormous backlog of traffic calming projects that have been approved to address speeding in neighborhoods - which will take about 30 years to complete with the current traffic calming budget.

With that in mind, I asked staff to include all of the approved traffic calming projects in the ten-year Capital Improvement Sales Tax list and propose a more modest improvement on Forum to free up necessary funds. It’s my understanding that there is a safety concern at the entrance to Wilson's, which could be addressed by slowing traffic down, restricting left turns in and out of Wilson's, and adding one or more roundabouts. This would allow us to preserve the existing bridge over the Hinkson Creek and would not require acquisition of additional right-of-way, thereby saving millions of dollars.

Finally, I asked constituents to email me and share your thoughts on whether we should trim back certain very expensive road expansion projects in order to develop a more efficient and economical transportation system. I was very pleased to receive seventy-three (73) responses, which are posted here (without individual identifiers), and to note that 80% of respondents supported my position with only a handful of opponents. In the knowledge of strong constituent support, I worked hard to convince my City Council colleagues to think differently about these transportation projects, and we ended up including in the project list:

  • $4.5 million for sidewalks (twice as much as was allocated from the last Capital Improvement Sales Tax, ten years ago),
  • $1.8 million for traffic calming (enough to complete about one-half of all the approved projects, over the next 10 years), and
  • $280,000 for 10-20 new bus shelters.

My proposal to "downsize" the Forum project did not gain traction, but City staff agreed to reduce the budget to $12.7 million, because they believe they will be able to add on to the existing bridge (which has 20-30 years of life in it) rather than demolish it and build a new, wider bridge. If the sales tax passes (and, with the positive changes in the project list, I am supporting it), I still plan to advocate for a more conservative Forum Boulevard improvement project because I believe widening this road is not in Columbia's best interests. There are much better ways to improve traffic flow and safety on Forum - for more information on this issue, read urban designer Jeff Speck's essay about induced traffic demand and the problem of excessively expensive road widening projects.

Don't Be Fooled - Vote "YES" on Proposition 2

(posted October 27th, 2014)

Members of the so-called Citizens for a Better Columbia political action committee want you to think Proposition 2 will raise your grocery bills.

Don't be fooled. Prop. 2 is not a general tax and will not impact your cost of living - instead, it will raise the fees charged by the City to new development only. In fact, if Prop. 2 succeeds, more of the tax dollars you already pay will go to road maintenance, snow clearance, etc., because there will be a (slightly) lower public subsidy for growth.

As Columbia grows, adding 3,000 new residents every year, the City needs to spend about $10 million per year on new collector and arterial roads, and on expanding existing ones. The current development fee provides about 15% of that cost, with the taxpayer picking up the other 85%. Prop. 2 would increase the developers' contribution to 35% and reduce the taxpayers' burden to 65%. This is a very modest and reasonable adjustment, especially in a time of declining federal and state support.

In case you're wondering, Citizens for a Better Columbia consists of the following thirteen individuals and corporations involved in the development industry, who each contributed $10,000 to try to defeat Prop. 2:

  1. Beacon Street
  2. Contracting Supply
  3. Crockett Engineering
  4. Emery Sapp and Sons
  5. Harold E Johnson Companies
  6. Jennifer Bukowsky
  7. MFA Oil
  8. Mid-City Lumber Co
  9. Plaza Commercial Realty
  10. Rabkin Contracting LLC
  11. Robert Pugh
  12. Tom Atkins
  13. Tompkins Homes

The group is putting out slick mailers, TV ads, and "robo-calls" to try to mislead you. Their messages suggest Prop. 2 will increase your cost of living - it won't! Take a look at the Columbia Daily Tribune's Fact Checker, which said their "Tale of Tax Hikes” mailer should be considered "mostly a work of fiction."

Cost Sharing for Quality Roads - Vote "YES" on Proposition 2

(posted September 22nd, 2014)

On Tuesday, November 4th, vote "YES" on Proposition 2 to increase the charges paid by new development to fund road expansion in Columbia. Passage of Prop. 2 will double the amount paid by new residential development from $0.50 to $1.00 per square foot and introduce rates of $1.50 and $2.00 per square foot for new non-residential development, depending on the amount of traffic generated. Proposition 2 is not a tax.

Columbia's population is growing at 2.5%, adding 3,000 new citizens every year. As a result, we are spending about $10 million/year to build new arterial and collector roads and add capacity to existing roads. The present development charge covers about 15% of that cost, with the other 85% ($8.5 million/year) coming from the taxpayer. If Proposition 2 passes, the share paid by new development will increase to about 35%, while the taxpayer's contribution will be reduced to about 65%, freeing up precious tax dollars for ongoing road maintenance.

Here are some frequently-asked questions:

  • Is this development charge a tax? No, it is a one time charge that developers would pay on new construction projects.
  • Does this charge apply to existing homes or businesses? No, it applies only to new construction.
  • Why are there 3 different levels of charges? The charges are linked to the amount of traffic generated and the size of the new development.
  • Don't developers already pay for street construction? Developers are required to provide the streets within new developments. This charge would be used to fund part of the cost of building the arterial and collector street system that serves the new developments.
  • Why does the ballot language say “maximum of”? The stated amounts are the maximum that can be charged. This provides flexibility to lower the charges for specific uses such as churches, libraries and affordable housing.
  • Why do we need this charge? To finance the new roads that are needed to handle the increased traffic that serve new developments. Columbia has grown rapidly in the last decade, and sales tax revenue has been hurt by tax free online shopping, so it has become increasingly difficult to pay for new road construction.
  • Why is the increase so modest? While the increase in the charge may seem small, it is the largest amount that a majority of the council could support.

For more information, download the presentation developed by Cost Sharing for Quality Roads - the campaign team advocating for passage of Proposition. If you would like a member of the Cost Sharing for Quality Roads team to make a presentation about Proposition 2 to your group, please contact me. If you would like to make a financial contribution to the campaign, please send your check to:

Cost Sharing for Quality Roads
P.O. Box 8163
Columbia, MO 65205

New Development Charges: How much of the cost of growth should they cover and how much do they cover?

(updated June 29th, 2014)

The population of Columbia has been growing at an annual rate of 2.5% for the last fifteen years. At present, that means we are adding 10,000 new residents every three and a half years. To accommodate this growth, the City spends $10 - $20 million every year to expand the capacity of infrastructure systems such as water, sewer, storm water, electricity, and roads.

Last month, I invited you to tell me what percentage of these Infrastructure Capacity Expansion Costs you feel the City should recover directly from new development at the time a building permit is issued. Whatever amount is not recovered in these New Development Charges is paid by the entire community in utility rates and taxes.

Constituent Survey Development Charges

The survey was completed by 176 respondents, and the overwhelming opinion was that New Development Charges should be set to levels that recover the majority of the Infrastructsure Capacity Expansion Costs, which are incurred to accommodate growth and for no other reason.

For the water, sewer, storm water, electric and road systems and for all five combined, respondents were asked "What percentage of the cost of infrastructure expansion do you believe should be paid for by new development, in the future?".

For all six questions, the most common response was "The majority (80-90%)". Further, the "About two-thirds (60-70%)", "The majority (80-90%)", and "All of it (100%)" categories captured well over half of all responses to all six questions - varying between 56% and 73% of responses on the different questions.

Between 14% and 18% of respondents felt New Development Charges should cover 100% of Infrastructure Capacity Expansion Costs and between 5% and 11% of respondents felt that there should be no New Development Charges.

For more details, please check out the complete survey results.

So, what percentage of these costs are actually paid for by new development? Currently, New Development Charges for these utilities are:

  • Water: $634 per dwelling unit
  • Sewer: $800 per dwelling unit
  • Storm Water: $0.09 - $0.20 per square foot (depending on type of building)
  • Electricity: No New Development Charge levied
  • Collector and Arterial Roads: $0.50 per square foot

Over recent months, City staff have helped me conduct a Historical Budget Analysis covering the last ten years, to answer this question. Specifically, they reviewed every capital infrastructure project and identified it as either "Capacity Expansion" or "Repair/Maintenance" or as a combination - this analysis considers only those costs incurred to accommodate new development.

The analysis shows the following rates of recovery from New Development Charges:

  • Water: 38.9% recovered
  • Sewer: 26.6% recovered
  • Storm Water: 65.4% recovered
  • Electricity: Nothing recovered
  • Roads: 9.0% recovered

On aggregate - for all of these infrastructure systems combined - we have recovered 16.1% from New Development Charges, according to this analysis. Conversely, this means 83.9% of these Infrastructure Capacity Expansion Costs was paid for by the entire community in utility rates and taxes - this amounts to well over $10 million per year.

City Council is currently considering some increases in the current New Development Charges. Here are some of the factors we are considering:

  1. Changes in some New Development Charges require a citywide ballot;
  2. Any adopted changes in New Development Charges should be phased in over a few years to allow the market to adapt;
  3. Increasing New Development Charges may increase the cost of new housing, making it less affordable for low-income families;
  4. Increasing New Development Charges may discourage developers from investing in Columbia.

With regard to the fourth point, a 2007 study of aggregated New Development Charges in forty comparable communities ranked Columbia twenty-fourth with charges about one-half of those levied in Lawrence, KS, one-fifth of those in Iowa City, IA, and one-twentieth of those in Boulder, CO. That study is currently being repeated by City staff and I will report those results when they are available.

Special Council Meetings and Downtown Development Agreements

(updated April 2nd, 2014)

Last month, City Council held an accelerated series of "special meetings" to review three proposed development agreements for downtown student housing. Many feel the approval process was rushed in order to meet investor-driven timelines.

While it is important for City government to work cooperatively with the private sector, I believe City Council's number one priority is to represent the voting public. This extraordinary process was pushed through without proper explanation or opportunity for public input - as a result, there has been a community backlash. Although two of the three development agreements were approved by a majority of City Council, I understand a "recall petition" is being circulated, which may mean we have to reconsider at least one of these votes.

Complicating efforts to add housing and commercial development downtown is a shortage of sewer and electrical infrastructure capacity as well as an ongoing process to review zoning codes. My preferred approach is to address these issues in a transparent and thoughtful way before rushing to approve additional construction projects. Therefore, I support the Downtown Columbia Leadership Council's recent proposal to host public forums and make recommendations on these matters to Council.

Downtown "Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District"

(posted February 24th, 2014)

In January and February, about 160 of you completed a survey about how the cost of building infrastructure to serve new development should be allocated. Several questions (summarized in this section) focused on a proposal to create a "Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District" to fund infrastructure deficits in Downtown Columbia. More general questions about funding new infrastructure are summarized in the next section.

Do you support the creation of a TIF District to pay for downtown infrastructure?
I support a TIF District to pay for 100% of the cost 5%
I support a TIF District to pay for part of the cost along with other methods 20%
I oppose a TIF District 56%
I oppose new development downtown 9%
I don't know 9%
Do you support the creation of a NID to pay for downtown infrastructure?
I support a NID to pay for 100% of the cost 7%
I support a NID to pay for part of the cost along with other methods 43%
I oppose a NID 22%
I oppose new development downtown 5%
I don't know 23%
Do you support a Development Impact Fee approach to pay for downtown infrastructure?
I support a Development Impact Fee approach to pay for 100% of the cost 23%
I support a Development Impact Fee approach to pay for part of the cost along with other methods 48%
I oppose a Development Impact Fee approach 11%
I oppose new development downtown 2%
I don't know 15%

Late last year, the City Manager announced that all new construction in the downtown area would be placed "on hold" because the electrical and sewer systems in the area are both at capacity, and proposed a "Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District" to raise needed funds. This would involve defining an area (possibly including downtown, the North-Central neighborhood, and Business Loop) within which the current levels of property and sales taxes going to the City, County, school district, etc. would be "frozen;" while all additional taxes collected in the future (as a result of new buildings, increased property values, and new economic activity) would be diverted to a special "TIF Account" which would be used to pay for the capacity upgrades.

One alternative mechanism is a "Neighborhood Improvement District (NID)." This would require a vote of residents and property owners in the area to approve a new tax assessment on themselves, which would pay for the capacity upgrades. In contrast with the TIF, previously existing tax assessments to the City, County, school district, etc. would continue to grow if there are new buildings, increased property values, and/or new economic activity, and all of the infrastructure costs would be paid from the newly created NID taxes. A third possible approach is to charge a "Development Impact Fee." An assessment of the total anticipated new development over the next ten years (say) could be made and the cost of the capacity increases needed to serve all the new development could then be allocated proportionally to each new project, depending on its relative impact.

Survey results indicate overwhelming opposition to the TIF District proposal and strong support for exploring other options. Only five percent (5%) of respondents support a TIF District to cover the entire cost and just twenty percent (20%) support a combined approach, while a majority fifty-six percent (56%) oppose a TIF District under any circumstances. In contrast, fifty percent (50%) of respondents support a NID (essentially a property tax increase) alone or in combination with other mechanisms, and seventy-one percent (71%) of respondents support a Development Impact Fee as all or part of the solution. Please take a few minutes to review the complete survey results.

At the February 17th City Council meeting, I voted with the majority in a 5-2 decision not to endorse a list of projects that would be funded by a proposed TIF District - effectively taking this option off the table for the time being. My position on this issue was (and still is) that (1) City staff failed to explain why a TIF District was the only possible solution to the downtown infrastructure capacity shortages, leading to enormous public opposition, and (2) we need to properly examine other options before leaping to a radical solution, apparently out of desperation. I believe a TIF District may be a very appopriate method to fund some of the projects on the proposed list, but we need to slow the process down and address high-priority issues in the Comprehensive Plan, such as new development impact/equity fees and downtown zoning, as part of this process.

After voting against the TIF District last week, I consulted with council colleagues and constituents, and developed a proposal for moving forward on the issue. In addition to creating "rapid implementation plans" for key development-related priorities in the Comprehensive Plan, I am proposing a series of focused "Public Information and Listening Sessions" at which City staff will make informational presentations, various stakeholder groups (including the public at large) will have the opportunity to ask questions and make comments, and City Council will have a publicly-visible discussion with the goal of reaching a consensus for next steps.

Please review these documents if you have time, and email me with your thoughts on these proposals.

Cost of Infrastructure for New Development

(posted February 24th, 2014)

The same January/February survey included more general questions about how the City should allocate the cost of building infrastructure (roads, sewers, electrical lines, etc.) to serve new development.

Do you believe new development has paid its 'fair share' of infrastructure costs over the last 10-20 years?
Yes, I believe this 100% 2%
I think this is largely correct 5%
There may be some merit to this argument 19%
No, I reject this notion entirely 64%
I don't know 10%
When a large, new development is planned in a location that requires an extension of new infrastructure, who should pay for the extension?
New development should pay 100% of the cost 37%
New development should pay most of the cost with some being absorbed by the entire community 53%
Most of the cost should be absorbed by the entire community with some being charged specifically to the new development 8%
All of the cost should be absorbed by the entire community 1%
I don't know 1%
When a large, new development is planned in a location that requires an increase in the capacity of existing infrastructure, who should pay for the expansion?
New development should pay 100% of the cost 34%
New development should pay most of the cost with some being absorbed by the entire community 52%
Most of the cost should be absorbed by the entire community with some being charged specifically to the new development 12%
All of the cost should be absorbed by the entire community 1%
I don't know 1%

New development in the form of student housing, single-family neighborhoods, shopping and employment centers, and mixed-use developments creates additional demands on the City's infrastructure systems. As a result of new development, these systems may need to be extended or expanded or both - raising the question of who should pay for these expensive construction projects. Even if the systems do not need to be extended or expanded, the new development will use up some of their existing spare capacity, accelerating the time when full capacity will be reached.

At the same time, new development brings increased jobs and other economic activity to the City, and may attract further investment, including additional new development. Some people argue that this "growth model" is beneficial for Columbia as a whole, so the additional costs should be absorbed by the entire community. Others claim new development has not paid its "fair share" of infrastructure costs over recent years, even though fees have increased and developers pay for the constructions of streets and other infrastructure within their subdivisions and business districts.

Results of the survey suggest most of you feel that too little of the public cost of increasing infrastructure capacity has been allocated to the new development that goes on to use that new capacity, and that you want to see this policy changed in the future. Sixty-four percent (64%) of you said you "reject entirely" the notion that new development has paid its 'fair share' of infrastructure costs over the last 10-20 years, while just seven percent (7%) said you "think this is largely correct" or "believe this 100%." Looking to the future, ninety percent (90%) said new development should pay "100% of the cost" or "most of the cost with some being absorbed by the entire community" when new development requires an extension of new infrastructure, while eighty-six percent (86%) gave the same responses for a situation in which new development requires an increase in the capacity of existing infrastructure.

Here, again, are the complete survey results for these questions and the ones focused on downtown infrastructure.

Transit System Expansion

(posted November 3, 2013)

In September and October, about 140 of you completed a survey about a possible expansion of Columbia's public transit system.

How do you feel about the current funding available to Columbia Transit (CT)?
CT receives too much funding 10%
CT receives adequate funding 8%
CT receives too little funding 48%
I don't know 33%

Which of the following funding mechanisms for expanding transit service would you support? Check all that apply.
Sales tax increase of one twentieth of a cent on the dollar 42%
Property tax increase of 12 cents per $100,000 of assessed value 36%
Household utility fee increase of $3 per month 26%
Hotel tax increase of 3% (charged to visitors) 43%
Student activity fee of $20 per semester 45%
Parking permit fee increase of $50 per month 34%
I don't support additional funding for transit 21%

There has been a growing community-wide discussion of this idea for about three years. Columbia Transit's annual budget is a small fraction (between one-half and one-fifth) of that provided in other mid-west college towns such as Lawrence, KS, Ames, IA, and Champagne-Urbana, IL.  As a direct result, our bus service is vastly inferior, with poor coverage, 40-minute or 80-minute wait times between buses, and extremely poor evening and weekend service.  The only Columbia residents who currently ride the bus are those with absolutely no alternative options.

Your survey responses suggest that you want this situation to change - 74% of you said Columbia Transit's mission should be to 'provide a healthy, environmentally-responsible, and economical transportation service for everyone,' while just 26% indicated buses should only be provided for poor people and students.  Just 18% of you feel Columbia Transit receives adequate or too much funding, while 48% believe funding is too small and 33% don't know ... and between 26% and 45% support a range of possible funding mechanisms for expanding transit service.  Please take a few minutes to review the complete survey results.

But things are changing with public demand for better service.  In response, City staff have proposed a new route design named "CoMO Connect", which ditches the inefficient "hub and spoke" system in favor of a citywide network with 35 transfer points.  And City Council voted unanimously to bundle bus passes with downtown parking permits to encourage "park and ride" behavior and allow some parking revenues to be transferred to transit.  It was great to see so many of you at my CoMO Connect Forum on October 24 - check out the public feedback collected that evening.

'Columbia Imagined' Comprehensive Plan

(posted July 16, 2013)

In July, I asked for your feedback on the City's proposed Comprehensive Plan, 'Columbia Imagined'.  City staff had collected community input from dozens of public meetings over a 2-year period and used it to develop this important document which will guide Columbia's growth for the next two decades.  With the City Council just a few weeks away from final approval, I asked you to participate in an online survey on which elements of the Comprehensive Plan you like most, any elements you don't like, and anything we may have missed.

For each of the eighteen proposed Comprehensive Plan "policies," I invited you to "strongly agree" (+2 points), "agree" (+1), remain "neutral" (0), "disagree" (-1), or "strongly disagree" (-2).  I received 111 responses to the survey, and a summary of the results - showing the average rating for each "policy" - is included below.

As you can see, "Plan for fiscally sustainable growth" (colored red) was very popular with a rating of +1.67, suggesting 5 out of 6 respondents "strongly agreed" while the sixth "agreed."

Constituent Survey Comprehensive Plan Summary

Other popular policies with ratings between +1.4 and +1.6 (orange) were "Facilitate neighborhood planning," "Prepare a green infrastructure plan," "Accommodate non-motorized transportation," and "Improve transit service."

In the middle, with ratings between +1.2 and +1.4 (yellow) were "Support diverse/inclusive housing options," "Prioritize infill development," "Regional growth management," and the three environmental policies in "agricultural land preservation," "land disturbance/development permitting," and "tree preservation/invasive species management."

Lower priority policies, with ratings between +1.0 and +1.2 (green) were those on "mixed-use development," "alternative development regulations," and the three economic development policies.

The lowest priority of +0.73 (blue) was given to "Establish an urban service area."