Posted: May 7, 2012 3:17 PM by Veronica Polivanaya
Updated: May 7, 2012 6:48 PM
COLUMBIA - The Columbia City Council will discuss a resolution Monday night that would rescind a blight decree for a large portion of the city. The declaration of blight is the first step toward establishing an enhanced enterprise zone, or EEZ.
The preliminary map of the blight zone, released Feb. 6, covers 60 percent of the city, mainly the eastern half. The measure discussed tonight would eliminate the map indicating areas the city declared blighted but would maintain the established EEZ advisory board.
According to Columbia Regional Economic Development Incorporated, an EEZ is a state program designed to create jobs, particularly in areas with high unemployment and low income. The program offers a combination of state tax credits and a partial abatement of local property taxes to new or expanding businesses that create good jobs in targeted industries.
Fifth Ward Councilwoman Helen Anthony proposed the motion for city staff to draft the resolution at the council's April 16 meeting. Anthony said she would propose an ordinance, rather than a resolution, to establish the borders of the EEZ, allowing more time for public input. Proposed ordinances require three readings before they can be passed, but resolutions only require two.
"The reason that we're using the EEZ is to attract manufacturing jobs," Anthony said. "And when you have the blight map encompassing quite a few residential neighborhoods, then you certainly understand why people are upset. That wouldn't be the appropriate area for manufacturing, so that's what we're trying to address with a new certification of a new map."
Citizens Involved and Invested in Columbia, a political action committee formed in opposition to the EEZ proposal, has been circulating a petition to rescind the entire resolution adopted Feb. 6. Planning and Zoning Commissioner Karl Skala, a member of the group, said the whole resolution should be rescinded, including the sections that established the EEZ advisory board.
"It diminishes the due process that citizens are entitled to when it comes to public hearings and public discussion," Skala said. "The entire resolution, in our opinion, is illegal."
"I understand from our own council that the creation of the advisory board was done appropriately through a resolution," Anthony said. "We have an advisory board that has been working very hard on this issue, who's been narrowing the map, that is working on the application itself. And that they're almost finished with their work. So that, to rescind them, at this point, I think, would put a lot of burden on us going forward in terms of we are trying to be timely, so I feel that we are under a bit of a time crunch, so that's why I only asked to have part of this rescinded."
Skala has some objections regarding enhanced enterprise zones in general.
"There are obviously lots of other issues, not the least of which has to do with the psychology of blight, the number of jobs that are involved here, how much subsidy there is," Skala said. "The numbers suggest that statewide there are 5,115 jobs that we're creating with an EEZ at the cost of $1.5 billion. That's about $312,000 a job...Is an $11 job worth $312,000 of taxpayer money to subsidize it?"
According to the Missouri Department of Economic Development, there are 118 EEZs in Missouri. Four council members need to vote yes tonight for the resolution to pass.