Don't tow me, bro

COLUMBIA, Mo  7/9/17 (Beet Bite) -- A yellow suctioning device that looks like Sponge Bob promises to close a rising budget deficit at Columbia City Hall, city manager Mike Matthes says. 

"The Barnacle makes great financial sense," Matthes explained in a rare exclusive interview with the Heart Beat.   "It may sound like a Sponge Bob character, but I urge people with unpaid parking tickets to take the Barnacle very, very seriously."

A high-tech version of the dreaded tire boot, the Barnacle is a flat windshield cover that prevents drivers from seeing the road.    It saves on towing costs and forces unpaid parking fines out of even the most crabby claws. 

Armed with alarms and sensors, the device is named after the marine animal that encrusts ships with its hard-to-remove shell.    Should parking scofflaws try to remove it without the secret codes Matthes carries with him at all times in a small briefcase, and the Barnacle emits a Banshee-like shriek "that puts a car alarm to shame," the city manager chuckled. 

These days, rising budget deficits dominate Matthes' mood, which alternates between happy happy joy joy -- "whenever we raise utility rates or sales taxes" -- to downright depressed, he said.   

"Overdue parking tickets put a big burden on city budgets already struggling to pay the cost of infrastructure for ten thousand new student apartments," Matthes said.  

"Garagezilla still isn't paying for itself.   And we lost $1.5 million selling land to Aurora Organic Dairy we bought with millions in city utility profits," he added.   "The Broadway Hotel is getting another TIF, which means the developer gets another truckload of our tax dollars.  And we just agreed to spend over a million dollars for land to build a new park on the corner of Providence and Broadway."

Though Matthes has raised parking fees and fines several times since he took office in 2012, he isn't worried the Barnacle will be another disincentive to shop downtown

"Somebody's gotta pay, and we know we can count on our mom-and-pop shops to step up and take another hit for the team," he said.   "Brick-and-mortar merchants have to compete with Amazon, and they feel reassured with a strong, well-funded city government to protect their interests."
Barnacle critics, however, say the new tool continues a troubling trend at City Hall:  "screwing locals while rolling out the red carpet for out-of-town developers," said an audience member at a public forum about the Barnacle last month.  
"If you're an out-of-town business, creepy history a plus, Matthes and the Council will give you the Key to the City and all the incentives you can stuff onto your balance sheet," the man said.   "But if you're a long-time, hardworking average resident, they will figure out new ways to f--- you on an almost weekly basis.  This Barnacle thing is just the latest."    

Matthes disagreed, and was pleased with turnout at the Barnacle forum, which included a mock windshield demonstration.   The response left him "cautiously optimistic" about the Barnacle's future.  

"We always ask the public before we implement new policies," he told the Heart Beat.  "Whether its community policing or my focus on economic equity, we want our folks to know City Hall is there for them.  We're in your corner." 

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