Local artists get cheated; the school district gets a windfall
COLUMBIA, Mo 04/05/15 (Beat Byte) -- A plan to give Columbia Public Schools a large discount on stormwater utility charges should Proposition 2 pass Tuesday is prompting charges of "vote buying" because little about it adds up.
City manager Mike Matthes unveiled the plan at a School Board meeting last month, offering the discount in exchange for "stormwater education" projects. Proposition 2 boosters say Federal and/or state requlations "require" the city to secure school participation and grant the discount.
But the regulations require no such thing, and City Hall's earlier stormwater education efforts relied on unpaid volunteers. The regulations also regard school districts as only one part of a much bigger stormwater education picture.
If voters approve it, Proposition 2 would more than double stormwater utility rates. Under the Matthes plan, CPS "could get as much as a sixty percent discount," KOMU reported.
"Matthes said the city would give the district a discount if CPS integrates stormwater education into its science curriculum," the Columbia Daily Tribune also reported.
Proposition 2 boosters, meanwhile, tell audiences regulations force the city to lower the school district's bills if they offer stormwater education.
"At last weeks Cosmo meeting, you mentioned it was a federal (or state?) regulation that the city had to give the school system a stormwater discount if they offered a class on stormwater education," city government fairness advocate Bill Weitkemper emailed Central Missouri Development Council executive director Jim Loveless.
"Can you tell me how I can find that regulation?" Weitkemper asked.
"I can’t answer that, Bill," responded Loveless, a member of Foundation for Columbia's Future, the main Proposition 2 booster group. "I believe I got the information from Mike Matthes."
6th Ward City Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe said she heard a similar story.
"I learned at the Collaborative Adaptive Management (CAM) stakeholder's meeting that the City is required under its MS4 Permit to do stormwater education," Hoppe emailed reporters, fellow Council members, and Weitkemper yesterday.
CAM is a local group charged with improving water quality in Hinkson Creek.
"It is my understanding that there have been discussions with CPS and staff to reduce CPS stormwater fees in exchange for CPS incorporating a stormwater education program," Hoppe continued. "CPS is the perfect partner for educating young people and through them educating their parents about stormwater best practices."
But the EPA/Missouri Department of Natural Resources regulations that control Columbia's MS4 permit -- a stormwater license for cities -- identify the entire community -- not just school children -- for "stormwater education."
"Reaching Diverse Audiences" such as "restaurants dumping grease and auto shops dumping used oil" is bullet point 3 in the permit's public education guidelines.
Under the Matthes plan, discounts granted CPS in exchange for stormwater education could amount to over $300,000 in 5 years, if reported estimates are correct.
Such a discount may be unfair to other organizations in Columbia that could provide stormwater education.
What's more, City Hall has no history of offering compensation to non-city stormwater educators.
In fact, just the opposite. The public works department used nine local artists to decorate stormwater drains around town for a 2012 stormwater education program without paying them a dime, let alone $300,000.
To some observers, the sudden interest in compensating one large, influential stakeholder for stormwater education -- the school district, with two Board seats on Tuesday's ballot increasing interest from CPS employees -- seems suspect at best, a vote-buying tactic at worst.