Citizen groups at odds over Columbia electric bond proposals

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COLUMBIA - Columbia voters will decide in April if bond financing is the best option to pay for improvements to Columbia's electric system.

Supporters and opponents of Propositions 1 and 2 spoke out Monday. If passed, Propositions 1 and 2 would provide millions in bonds to fund city utility projects.

Propositions 1 and 2 would increase utility bills six percent over five years. Without the bonds, the city would need to raise larger amounts of money in shorter time increments.

Mitch Richards is a spokesperson for Boone County for Liberty, a group of Columbia residents advocating against the city purchasing the bonds. He said the city's changes to budget and finance plans in the past have created an atmosphere of distrust within the community. He said that distrust makes him hesitant to believe that this is the only way to fund the electric improvements. 

"It's almost shady, I think, unfortunately, is the word we have to use," he said. "...We love and support our community as much as the folks on the 'yes' campaign. We just feel that voters should not be put in a position to pay more money for a city council and a city government that unfortunately hasn't demonstrated the necessary trust to do that."

Richards said the group also supports an independent audit of the city of Columbia. 

Supporters of the bond purchase said the bonds are a necessary part of keeping up with an expanding city and increasing cost of infrastructure. Tom Mendenhall is a committee member on the Foundation for Columbia's future board, and said the bonds are needed to bring necessary upgrades to the city.

"Some of the infrastructure dates back almost 75 to 100 years and a lot of this is being brought up with the ongoing development downtown," Mendenhall said. "To bring our infrastructure needs up, we need to pass the bond issue for sewer and electric." 

He said he believes bond issues are the best option for the city because it allows rates to increase gradually over time instead of suddenly. 

"You've got to take care of your infrastructure needs or you're just not taking care of business."

Columbia Water and Light compiled a list of projected project on its website. Projects are categorized as replacements and upgrades, transmission and substation projects, as well as modernization and expansion. In 2006, voters approved $60 million in bonds for electrical improvements.

Both Mendenhall and Richards encouraged Columbia residents to vote in the April election. Voting will be April 7.