"It is over."

COLUMBIA, Mo 2/18/14 (Beat Byte) -- Grave concerns over the usual suspects -- lack of public process, poor communication, rushed agendas, and widespread public opposition -- spelled doom for city manager Mike Matthes' downtown Columbia TIF District Resolution last night.  

Five City Council members voted against it after nearly three hours of discussion -- and a long line of elegant, oppositional testimonials (highlights to follow).

Two Councilmen -- Karl Skala and Ian Thomas -- insisted the city must enact higher development impact fees.  First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt considered the Resolution premature, and wanted it sent back to the TIF Commission.
Citing only "one constituent who supports this," Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser said public opposition was too great to merit her vote.  Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe called the TIF Resolution short-sighted, and in comparison to the CoMo Connect transit project, a poorly-executed fumble.

"You need to involve the community in the planning process," Hoppe said. "They need to own it."

Only Mayor Bob McDavid and Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp voted to support the Resolution, which stated that Columbia had no other way to pay for some $70 million worth of infrastructure and other projects "but for" a TIF District that would divert property and sales tax dollars from schools, libraries, and other public agencies.

"It is over," deputy city manager Tony St. Romaine said.

City Hall's administrative staff presentation started inauspiciously, with a confusing, roundabout, and uncertain presentation of the city's current financial position.

It started after Councilwoman Nauser asked if the city had enough money to fund the TIF sewer projects without the incentive plan.  She cited $13.9 million in "cash and cash equivalents" the city shows on its latest financial statement (pg. 28) in the Sanitary Sewer Utility Fund -- more than enough to pay for the $6.75 million in downtown sewer projects shown on the TIF plan.

But Matthes said the amount is "a little less than $2 million.  These are where our reports can be very confusing."  With a wide grin, he introduced deputy city finance director Lynn Cannon, who tried to explain various financial statement discrepancies.

"As of right now, we don't have an official cash balance," Cannon said, looking like a deer in the headlights.   When that didn't make sense to Council members, she tried a Hail Mary save.

"We have a cash balance," she said.  "But we still have bills we have to pay."

Council members wanted precise figures.  "What do we have in unrestricted funds?" the Mayor asked. "We're being accused of having all these slush funds.  What do I tell voters?"

"How much money does the city have in its wallet right now?" Mr. Skala asked.  "I wanna know how much there is."

"As of September 30, the unrestricted cash was $28 million," Cannon said.  "But that doesn't account for anything that still needs to be paid."

"The budget says we'll have about $2 million, if everything goes well," Matthes interjected, finally settling on $1.6 million.  

The sanitary sewer utility actually has $11,733, 871 in "unrestricted" funds as of the latest financial report -- less than Mrs. Nauser cited, but much more than Mr. Matthes wanted the Council to believe.
A well-worn slide show depicting trees in spring-time bloom superimposed over winter days on various downtown streets led St. Romaine's presentation.  This, the deputy kept insisting, "is what could be -- with TIF."
Then the public weighed in.  Testimony was 100% against the TIF, not including developer representatives who mostly equivocated.

"We're not for -- or against -- the TIF, but we want to make clear it won't benefit developers," said attorney Robert Hollis, developer lobbyist Don Stamper, and Dan Rader, whose family plans to sell the land for what Peter Yronwode last night called "that 25 story monstrosity," a student apartment planned by Park 7 group across from Peace Park.

"TIF isn't a handout to developers," they kept insisting. "It's just one more tool in the economic development tool box."

NEXT:  Public hearing highlights