Oversight means college student may decide fate of Columbia business district's sales tax hike

An oversight by representatives of a business community improvement district in Columbia means a 23-year-old woman might be the only one voting on a proposed sales tax increase needed to make the district successful.

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The Columbia City Council established the Business Loop 70 Community Improvement District in April at the request of some property owners within the district's boundaries. The CID planned to hold an election in August to enact a half-cent sales tax, which is projected to raise about $220,000 to fund improvement projects.

Under state law, only registered voters within the district are allowed to vote on proposed sales tax increases in the district. If no registered voters are present, property owners vote. Organizers of the CID in Columbia thought they drew up the boundaries so it included no residents, meaning property owners would decide the fate of the proposed sales tax, The Columbia Daily Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/1PylYSw ).

CID Executive Director Carrie Gartner said that when district officials contacted the Boone County Clerk's Office about holding the August election, they discovered Jen Henderson, 28, had registered to vote in February with her Business Loop address.

Gartner said the CID hoped to use the sales tax revenue to pay down "significant debt," including more than $100,000 it owes the city and for legal representation.

Henderson said Gartner approached her in June to explain the goals of the CID and asked her to consider "unregistering her vote" so the property owners could vote. However, she said her research indicated things "just didn't seem to be as good as they were saying to me at first."

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Gartner "tried to get me to unregister, and that's pretty manipulative," Henderson said. "The district plan and the district border is manipulative, too."

Henderson, who attends the University of Missouri, said she doesn't plan to give up her right to vote and has not decided whether she will support the sales tax. She expressed concern about vague project outlines, Gartner's pay, and how the sales tax would help businesses but not nearby residents, particularly whether an additional sales tax would affect low-income people purchasing groceries and other necessities.

"Taxing their food is kind of sad, especially when (Gartner) is going to be making like $70,000 a year off of this whole deal," Henderson said. "These people make a quarter of that. They can barely afford to go buy food, and you're taxing their food."

Gartner said if the board decides to forego the election or Henderson votes against the sales tax, it will likely use an earlier property assessment to begin paying off the district's debt.

"Obviously, it would not be the same organization and could not function in the way we envisioned," Gartner said.

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Information from: Columbia Daily Tribune, http://www.columbiatribune.com