In the news

Economic Development: A Cost-Benefit Analysis

March 13, 2021

Dear Constituent:

On Monday evening, the City Council will vote on two bills related to a proposed Swift Foods meat processing plant in Columbia with the creation of hundreds of well-paying jobs.

If passed, one bill (details here) would authorize the construction of a $1.3 million sewer extension in a time frame conforming to the company's plans, and the other bill (details here) would create a "Job Creation Rider" which would waive up to $1 million in electric utility fees as long as the job creation criteria are met. Boone County, Columbia Public Schools, and other local taxing entities have already authorized the issuance of Chapter 100 Revenue Bonds (as described here), reducing Swift Foods' property taxes by 75% for 10 years - a total forgiveness of more than $11 million.

Regional Economic Development Inc. (REDI) and the City's Department of Economic Development have worked hard to attract Swift Foods to Columbia. The 251 full-time jobs would have an average annual wage of $52,693 with a long list of employee benefits. Production and packaging jobs would start at $16 per hour, and the plant's annual payroll would be $13.23 million. This would represent a significant financial stimulus for Columbia and a lifeline for many working families hit hard by pandemic-related job losses.

But is it worth forgoing $11 million in taxes (most of which would go to Columbia Public Schools) plus $1 million in electric utility fees, and re-prioritizing our sewer plan? And what impact do these public subsidies for an outside investor-owned company have on our existing, locally-owned, smaller businesses who do not qualify and may even have to compete with Swift Foods for market share? How do you view the cost-benefit analysis?

Massive economic disparities in America have created a tilted playing field for this power game. With 88% of the country's wealth controlled by the top 10% (the "investor class") while the bottom 20% have zero or negative wealth, poor families and the local elected officials who represent them are given a Hobson's Choice - "Subsidize job creation or we'll go to the next community."

And it's important to understand the role of systemic injustice in creating these disparities. While many American families have worked hard for their economic security, extreme levels of power, privilege, and wealth are not entirely "earned" - rather, they are accumulated as a result of unfair advantages often connected with historical acts of violence. On the other side of the coin, no-one “deserves” to live in poverty – it is simply the consequence of unfair disadvantage.

A commitment to equity requires confronting these systemic forces but, in the case of tax abatement for job creation, how do we do that? Do we best serve people struggling and out of work by creating jobs and starving our public schools? Or does that perpetuate unfair advantage when we should be working to reform these systems?

I'd value your thoughts on these questions before Council votes on the sewer extension and Job Creation Rider on Monday.

Talking Trash: Branded Bags, Roll Carts, and Composting

I appreciate many of you sharing your concerns and frustration with the new "branded bags" now required for the City's solid waste staff to pick up your trash.

The purpose of the new system is to charge fairly for the use of the utility, and to create an incentive for people to generate less trash, thereby preserving landfill space. The average Columbia household puts out about 2 bags per week, but some put out 5, 10, or even 15 bags per week and, with the old system, everyone paid the same. By providing 104 branded bags per year and charging $2 each for extras (which includes the staff cost of collection plus the cost of landfill space) I feel the City is treating everyone fairly. Here are some Frequently Asked Questions.

As I discussed in my December newsletter, I support transitioning to an automated collection system using roll carts, because it will benefit worker safety as well as fairness in billing. Over the last couple of months, Columbia MO Citizens for Roll Carts collected an additional 1,000 signatures for their ballot petition, and are now about two-thirds of the way to their goal. There's more information about the benefits of roll carts in their brochure.

And, in the interests of fairness and transparency, I want to let you know that there is also a campaign opposing roll cart implementation, so you can see both sides of the argument.

Finally, composting food waste and using it in the garden is an excellent way to reduce trash, improve the soil, and avoid synthetic fertilizers. Check out Steve Callis' article on composting.

Local Announcement

The PedNet Coalition is hiring a Communications and Events Coordinator, and accepting applications through this Sunday, March 14. Review the job description.

Constituent Conversations

I will be holding Constituent Conversations Online from 2-4pm on Sundays, March 21st and April 4th. Here are the videoconference/dial-in links:

Zoom Meeting or phone 1-312-626-6799, Meeting ID: 930-2165-7009

Upcoming dates are always available at my web site.

Cheers, Ian