Business Loop CID Denies Gerrymandering

Sep 17, 2015

Loop Business Community Improvement District Board meeting (from left) chairman Tom May, director Carrie Gartner and board member Cris Burnam,
Credit Kristofor Husted / KBIA

Creators of Columbia’s Business Loop Community Improvement District, or CID, say the borders of the district were drawn specifically to include parcels of land fronting the Business Loop 70 – not to explicitly cut out voters. Critics of the CID have said borders were drawn keep voters from having a say in a sales-tax election.

Chairman Tom May said Thursday at a board meeting that the properties included in the district were meant to include the businesses on plots of land that sat directly on Business Loop 70.

“We had a pretty simple design when we came up with this process,” he said. “That was every inch of property from I-70 to College Boulevard was going to be in the CID. It didn’t matter what size the parcel was or who was in the parcel.”

The formation of a CID allows revenue from tax hikes to be used for beatification and safety improvements.  The CID board had hoped to levy a half-cent sales tax in the district for the fund, but could only do so if no voters lived in the district. The vote was postponed when one voter was identified. Since then, KBIA has discovered 13 more registered voters. They have registered addresses on parcels touching Business Loop 70.

CID board members added that asking homeowners to take on a property assessment for the funds – something the property owners have already done – would be unfair.

Dan Cullimore, president of the North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association, said he’s understanding of the rationale behind the boundary drawing, but mistrust between the district and neighbors still lingers. He said that’s because no one reached out to the neighborhoods throughout the planning process.

“I think that was a mistake that has hurt them because it affected the public trust in the process,” he said.  “Quite frankly anytime you’re talking about access to tax dollars and particularly economic development sales tax dollars and the more broadly you can include people in that conversation, the better of you’re going to be and the more support you’re going to get for it.”

To better communicate with the neighbors, CID Director Carrie Gartner has been distributing surveys to the property owners, business owners and any neighbors it can to gather input on what the priorities are for improvements. Seventy-nine people have responded so far, mostly employees at the businesses, and have emphasized attractiveness and infrastructure as most important.

As for the 14 voters who potentially have the power to decide on a sales-tax increase, Gartner says the board will be reaching out to them to get their input.

“Right now, there’s no election scheduled,” she said. “So we’re not thinking in terms of a vote. We’re thinking in terms of input.”

The half-cent sales tax was expected to bring in more than $200,000. The property assessment is currently bringing in $50,000.