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Task force discusses funding for downtown Columbia infrastructure improvements

10th and Elm in downtown Columbia
KBIA File Photo

The Downtown Columbia Leadership Council formed a task force at their meeting Tuesday night. Its goal is to help City Council find the most appropriate way to fund necessary infrastructure improvements in downtown Columbia. While City Council will take the advice into account, they are feeling the pressure to make decisions now.

Downtown Columbia has been growing rapidly in recent years, and City Manager Mike Matthes says the city’s infrastructure, such as water piping, sewers, and electric wiring, are at capacity. The question now is how to pay to upgrade the infrastructure. After a proposal for a tax increment financing (TIF) district was voted down last week, the city is looking for other ways to pay for these improvements.

Task force member Brent Gardner says the TIF district was rushed through before the community even knew about the infrastructure problems.

“People were upset with the process," Gardner said. "It was almost as if the solution was proposed before the problem was announced. People really want to know where the city is with this infrastructure.”

Gardner says the task force plans to take a step back and collaborate with city staff and the community in order to assess the current situation and come up with an appropriate payment plan. He hopes to present this recommendation to City Council as early as next month.

But developers are hoping to begin building soon, and if City Council waits too long, Columbia stands to lose some opportunities. Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala says he is grateful for the task force’s initiative, but hopes City Council will gather their own information, and make some quick decisions.

“They simply don’t have the time to get into it in detail," Skala said. "The staff has that detail. That’s the kind of thing the staff needs to present to the city council, and the council needs to act on that.”

Skala says it’s important to pay for new infrastructure soon, in order to continue Columbia’s downtown development. But Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas says he’d rather see the city take its time and make the best decision.

“I think that we’ll all be pretty sorry if we rush to a quick fix without taking the time to thoughtfully discuss and decide as a community what the best approach is,” Thomas said.

Skala hopes to have a funding plan in place in the next 2 to 3 months.

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