Promises to fix ailing sewers vs. fears of a developer subsidy

COLUMBIA, Mo 11/4/13 (Beat Byte) -- Kee Groshong (left) has been selling sewer bonds to Columbia voters for at least 16 years. 

Back when Groshong was an MU Vice Chancellor, he chaired a committee that promised to use nearly one-third of an $18.5 million bond -- $5.5 million -- to repair and replace old sewers

That was in 1997 -- 16 years ago.  Groshong is back again selling this year's $32.3 million sewer bond, appointed to a committee by Mayor Bob McDavid in September

Columbia residents have been passing sewer bonds every five years or so for as long as many people can remember.  To sell the bonds, city officials always promise to fix existing sewers. 

But that promise is long in the tooth.  Failing sewers have been a problem in Columbia since before the Second World War, when segregated central city neighborhoods drained sewage into local creeks.  

Meanwhile, bond funds seem to end up in outlying new subdivisions built by developers with names like Pugh, Sapp, Atkins, Wolverton, Lindner, and now Odle, the student apartment kings who bought the failed Dicovery Ridge project and plan hundreds more apartments. 

They're already planning a TDD for a taxpayer subsidy

Worries developers will run off with sewer bond proceeds date back decades, too.  Here's a sample of those worries from 2003, when Columbia passed an $18 million sewer bond on the same old promise that City Hall would fix existing sewers.   Click the link for the story:     

"Members of the coalition used the city’s presentation about the water and sewer issue as a chance to claim that most of the projects promoted in both issues would result in urban sprawl.   In response, members of the city’s staff said most of the money would be spent maintaining and improving sewer and water service within the existing city limits."

"With another sewer-bond fleecing of the ratepayers looming large, a citizen committee has been formed to promote voter approval of the city’s sewer bonds at the election in November."

"Miles of exorbitantly costly sewer infrastructure were required to serve subdivisions such as Thornbrook and the Cascades on the city’s fringe. The funding for these sewer extensions was provided at ratepayers’ expense and largely without any public discussion."

"A committee assembled to promote Columbia’s water and sewer bond issues in the November election...must overcome the perception -- advanced by opponents of Elvin Sapp’s proposal to develop the 489-acre Philips farm property -- that sewer and rate increases will principally support new developments."

So with all these years of sewer bonds to replace and repair existing sewer systems, why isn't the job finally done?   It's an important question voters should ask themselves Tuesday.   Through higher rates, they will be paying the bills regardless what happens with the money.