DAVID ROSMAN: City makes a bad business decision

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Has the Columbia City Council gone out of its way to reject the wants of the Columbia voters? Has the council stopped representing the people of Columbia? Does the council not want to expand its tax base by incorporating the Midway properties into the city?

I like Councilman Karl Skala. I believe he is the heart of the City Council and may be the keeper of the history and reasoning behind many of the decisions the council has made during his years of service. And in this case, he may be correct when he says that he believes that “businesses are using the city to fix an issue that is the businesses’ problem.”

Yet government, be it local, state or federal, is there to do the things private industry and individual citizens cannot afford to do on their own. Expansion of the sewer system to accommodate the needs of existing businesses may be one of those “things.”

In 2013, Columbia voters passed a $32.3 million bond issue to extend the sewer system, called the Henderson Branch project, along I-70 to the Midway/Perche Creek exit. That would include the Midway Properties and MidwayUSA. The plan also called for the annexation of those properties into the city and the extension of I-70 Drive Southwest to West Van Horn Tavern Drive to North Highway UU.

What the city did not do was anticipate that the cost of the project would increase to $4.3 million after a five-year delay in ratifying the plan. This is not the fault of the property owners at Midway. It is due to the lack of foresight and planning by the city. The powers that be in 2013 did not calculate the increase in costs.

Joe Bechtold, owner of Midway Properties LLC, told KOMU that the cost for the expansion and annexation has “actually a 15.5 percent return on investment because of the taxes (collected).”

If that is correct, even if the estimate is high, the city has made a grave error with its decision. I would risk the $4.3 million investment for even a guaranteed 7.75 percent return in revenue, more than $333,000.

This is not the first time the city has made a bad choice in directing business to the city. Many of us remember the fiasco with IBM and the promise of 800 new jobs in exchange for major tax incentives.

As I wrote in 2015, “It seems the creation of 800 new jobs was only a ‘guestimate’ by IBM management; the actual contract said the company was to achieve 600 new jobs by the end of 2012.” By January 2015, IBM was employing closer to 300. The city took IBM at its word without considering the possibility that the numbers were, let’s say, massaged.

On the other hand, Larry Potterfield, owner of MidwayUSA, employs about 350 people and may hire more to help fill orders for the customers of a hunting and outdoor products retailer. Potterfield has threatened to move MidwayUSA from mid-Missouri because of the council’s decision. Even if Potterfield’s numbers are inflated, the idea of losing 400 jobs in mid-Missouri is not palatable.

I agree with Skala that there are other sewer projects that need to be addressed in the city, but that is not what the voters wanted in 2013.

If you don’t like what the government is doing, change it from within. Potterfield is thinking about running for mayor in 2019. Councilmen Ian Thomas (Ward 4) and Skala (Ward 3) are also up for re-election in April.

David Rosman is an editor, writer and professional speaker. You can read more of his commentaries at ColumbiaMissourian.com and InkandVoice.com.

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