Two different opinions on a controversial issue

POINT:   Without higher development fees, taxpayers lose

By Sid Sullivan

COLUMBIA, Mo 10/31/14 (Op Ed) -- To defeat Proposition 2 -- which would raise development fees in Columbia -- Bob Pugh, a land speculator with the St. Charles Road Development Group, put down $10,000 of his own money to create "Citizens for a Better Columbia".   

He also cajoled six other major development players to contribute equally, while threatening to transform this campaign committee into a political action committee (PAC) bent on creating a Columbia City Council more favorable to development interests.   In its latest filing with the Missouri Ethics Commission, the group has raised $150,000, while spending over $100,000 (so far) to defeat higher development fees.   

Citizens for a Better Columbia has spooked the development community into thinking an increase in development fees will suck the air out of future development.   But where's the proof a development fee increase of $750 to $1,000 for a new house and $1.50 to $2.00 per square foot for commercial properties, phased in over 3-5 years, would devastate development in Columbia?  

The "pants on fire" cartoon mailers we’ve all received aren’t offering any proof.   

The alternatives to Prop. 2 are higher sales and property taxes for all of us, or fewer amenities.  

Columbia is growing by over 3,000 residents per year.    While developers pay for everything inside a subdivision, for every 5,000 residents the city needs a new elementary school, a neighborhood park, tot lots, open spaces, common collector streets and arterial roads.   For every 15-20,000 new residents, we need a neighborhood-scale shopping center, a junior high school, playfields, a fire station, and major arterials. 

Councilman Ian Thomas produced an uncontroverted study that Columbia residents subsidize 85% of the cost of new growth.  Prop. 2's development fee increase will reduce our subsidy by about 20%.    Thomas cites studies showing increased development fees in other cities have enhanced development and spurred growth.   The only downside is a possible reduction in the price of development land.

Voters should examine this issue and vote with their brains.    While Mr. Pugh and company are trying to scare voters to defeat Prop 2, the tens of thousands of dollars his group is spending would be better spent enhancing our community, not buying them a more favorable City Council.      

-- Sid Sullivan is a 2-time candidate for Columbia Mayor with longtime involvement in Columbia planning issues

COUNTERPOINT:   City Hall has a priorities problem, not a money problem

By Doug Wheeler

COLUMBIA, Mo 10/31/14 (Op Ed) -- I really enjoy your newsletter most of the time, but I have noticed a trend – when you support an issue the only people who get space are those who agree.

An example of this is Proposition 2, the development fee hike.   The money generated by this fee increase will simply disappear into the giant hole that is the city budget.   City manager Mike Matthes will, however, get to show how he increased city revenue on his resume, which in my opinion is the reason we have seen so many proposed increases in fees and taxes since he got here.  

Certainly, some of what the talking heads are saying about development is correct.   We are expanding Columbia and new collector roads are paid for by the city, as is the extension of the sewer lines and mains.  

But Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas’ numbers -- discussed as though they are gospel -- are not accurate.  

To say that only 15% of the cost of expanding the road network and sewer trunk lines is being paid for by new construction is misleading.   And ultimately, the development fee increases will be paid for by the citizens, either in the form of higher prices for homes or higher prices for goods and services. 

While we are paying for the expansion of various systems, we (the citizens) are not paying for any of the infrastructure within new developments.   This is paid for by the lot/home buyers in residential construction, and the commercial developer in commercial/office developments.  

These systems are vastly superior to what has been built in the past, thus not needing the ongoing maintenance of an older system.   Older areas have obsolete systems (or no systems at all) and we the citizens pay to update/install new service.  

What I have brought up here is just a portion of the problems with the numbers that are part of Thomas' analysis.   He has a bias and an agenda.    Another important consideration would be the added sales tax dollars from new residents.  The majority of our city government's income comes from this source. 

What we have in Columbia is a misplaced priorities issue -- not a lack of money issue.  

-- Doug Wheeler is a Columbia Realtor, longtime member and former chairperson of the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission