Third Ward Candidates Square off over Fee Plan

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COLUMBIA - Karl Skala's bid to return to the Columbia City Council is built in part on a plan Skala says could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars more for Columbia's infrastructure, including road construction, stormwater repairing, and airport projects.

Skala proposed the Trip Generation Model to the city council Monday. It would change how the city collects the development fee, going from size-based fees only to a combination of size-based and use-based fees. The approach calls for the city to assess development fees not only on the size of the development, but also on the impact of that development on the roads. The more traffic the development will generate, the higher the development fee it will pay.

Skala said, with the current system based on square footage, a 2,000-square-foot house would yield $1,000 to the city. But with the Trip General Model, a 2,000-square-foot house would yield $1,010, which is about the same for residential properties. But a consumer store such as the 180,000-square-foot Walmart, which would currently yield $90,000 to the city, would yield $696,000 under the new model.

Skala's opponent for the seat, Third Ward incumbent Gary Kespohl, said the Skala plan sets fees way too high.

"If we raise the fees like he would like the city to do, it's going to close Columbia. We are not able to open for any business," Kespohl said.

Skala said Columbia is desperately behind in road repair and is short of funds to make those repairs. According to a recent survey, the public's main priority when it comes to infrastructure is road construction. Skala said the city has $900,000 funds for road infrastructure, but there are $24 million in needs.

"Raising taxes is a political strategy that was just narrowly passed in 2005. The city asked for $80 million for infrastructure that year, but the city is planning on asking for $203 million on 2015. The possibility to approve that is low. But if it doesn't pass, we will all suffer," Skala said.

Kespohl said Skala's plan probably would not work in Columbia. He said the reason that people live in the community is to pool resources, like taxes. People pool their resources so they can build infrastructure and maintain infrastructure that they cannot do on their own.

"What we need to do is to put more of our tax dollars, which we have already collected, into roads and sidewalks that Columbia needs," Kespohl said.

Matt McCormick, president of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, said its job is to make sure local businesses can be successful. The chamber is aware of the proposal but wants to discuss it more before taking any action or position.

"There are always different ways to fund that, where that money comes from, and how it comes. So what we will want to do is to sit down and take a look at different avenues that can take place. To see what is the best way that benefits the business community but at the same time makes the transportation an easy process for people," McCormick said.