Controversy surrounds possible TIF district in Columbia

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Last night Columbia officials presented ideas to a panel about a TIF, or tax increment financing district.

The city wants to use the money to make improvements. Officials do not think downtown can handle any more housing projects until infrastructure is upgraded.

However, many oppose the move.

It's controversial because a TIF would freeze tax rates for the property owners and revenue generated by increased property values would pay for infrastructure improvements.

The county though uses sales tax for things like the new 911 center and schools use property taxes as their main source of funding.

One school board member told ABC 17 News that over the 23 year proposed TIF the city could be taking more than 35 million dollars from the school district.

TIF rules allow additional sales and property taxes collected after a TIF is made to be used the way the city plans. 

"My major concern with the TIF is it diverts revenues from the taxing entities to a city fund. It's important to remember that the levies that were approved by voters from the other taxing entities will be diverted to the city," said Jonathan Sessions, a Columbia Public School board member.

The city feels that a TIF is the only way to improve downtown infrastructure right now without raising taxes.

"Our ultimate goal in this is to make sure when we have analyzed all of the numbers that no taxing jurisdiction will not be harmed," said assistant city manager, Tony St. Romaine.

Romaine told ABC 17 News that there are 5 high density projects that developers want the city's approval for.

However, without the TIF to improve the city's sewer, water, and electrical systems they can not move forward with development.

"The city is trying to say development downtown could not happen unless we have a TIF. These are city infrastructure problems though," said Sessions.

Sessions told ABC 17 News that he feels the city should look into bonding options or rate changes to utilities. St. Romaine told ABC 17 News that that would affect more people than necessary.

"Those are things that the whole community would have to pay for for one small area in the downtown," said St. Romaine.

County officials told ABC 17 News that they are opposed to the TIF and how the city  is going about it.

In a letter to the city the commissioners say, "we will plan to pursue all available options to prevent the TIF from being put in place if we do not receive confirmation by Jan. 31 of the city's intent to terminate its current TIF effort."

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