Five years after the project was initially introduced, the Henderson Branch sewer extension was rejected by the Columbia City Council — again.
Now Larry Potterfield, owner of the arms distributor MidwayUSA, is thinking about moving to Columbia and running for mayor. Potterfield’s business would’ve been one of the main beneficiaries of the sewer extension.
In an email to the Missourian, Potterfield called the Henderson Branch extension’s latest rejection “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
“I am disappointed with the lack of leadership provided by the mayor, in this case,” Potterfield said in his email. “And frankly in many other issues the city has faced since he was elected.”
Mayor Brian Treece will be up for re-election in April.
After an hour of public comment, the council voted 4-3 at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday against the controversial sewer line extension. Treece, First Ward Councilman Clyde Ruffin, Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala and Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas voted against it. Second Ward Councilman Mike Trapp, Fifth Ward Councilman Matt Pitzer and Sixth Ward Councilwoman Betsy Peters voted for it.
The project was first introduced as a part of a $32 million bond issue Columbia voters approved in 2013. It includes extending more than 8,600 feet of sewer line to serve the 1,300-acre Henderson Branch watershed, and will cost an estimated $4.3 million, according to a council memo.
In May, the council shut down the sewer line’s construction with a 3-3 vote. But the project returned to the council’s agenda in August along with three proposals to annex properties that would have made Potterfield’s property and MidwayUSA contiguous with city limits. The annexations would have allowed the city to collect sales tax from the expansion.
Ruffin was absent from the May meeting, and proved to be the tie-breaking vote Wednesday.
Multiple Columbia residents, including some from the First Ward, expressed concern during the meeting that the city was prioritizing expansion over maintenance on existing sewer infrastructure.
Jill Lucht, who lives on Aldeah Avenue in the First Ward, said the city needs to fix sewer services within Columbia before it thinks of expanding.
“(The city) should prioritize keeping sewer water out of people’s homes,” she said. “That is what you should be using the sewer bond funds for.”
Other Columbia residents urged the council to keep the promises made to voters after they approved the initial bond in 2013.
Former City Manager Bill Watkins said he would like to see the project completed because he believes it makes financial sense for the city.
“Your rate payers are already paying (for the project),” he said.
Treece previously expressed concern about the expansion because Potterfield would only pay $3,700 a year toward the proposed multi-million-dollar project. Potterfield agreed to pay the city of Ashland over $900,000 in 2016 for a similar sewer expansion that cost $2.2 million, according to previous Missourian reporting.
Treece echoed these concerns at Tuesday’s meeting, and said he was also concerned there was no proposed job-share agreement between the city, Potterfield and Joe Bechtold, owner of Midway Truck Stop. Bechtold’s business would also have been served by the proposed sewer extension.
The absence of any job-share agreement hurts taxpayers, Treece said.
Other council members were also unhappy that business owners who would benefit from the proposed expansion were not willing to contribute more to the multimillion dollar project.
“I don’t think we would be here right now if there had been good faith negotiations by those who stand to benefit the most from this,” Skala said.
Thomas called the sewer extension a “terrible business decision” for the city, saying that the projected sales tax revenue from the property annexations couldn’t be used to support a one-time infrastructure project.
Pitzer, who voted to support the sewer extension, said the city has not taken advantages of opportunities like this that would put more revenue into the general fund.
Trapp, who also voted yes, said not following through on a project from a voter-approved bond would lead to decreased public trust.
“By not supporting all of our ballot objects, we’re going to erode support for the next one,” Trapp said.
Missourian reporter Hannah McFadden contributed to this report.
Supervising editor is Tynan Stewart.