Oops! Columbia Taxing District Likely To Be Decided by One Voter
As my colleagues David Stokes, Michael Rathbone, and Joe Miller have chronicled for years, community improvement districts (CIDs)—a type of local taxing district—are both popular and problematic for policymakers in Missouri. CIDs can generally raise property assessments without much restriction, and after a CID is formed, the operations of the district often become a black box. As Michael wrote earlier this year, "The auditor’s office has consistently found deficiencies in reporting and documentation for these districts." Once a CID is in place, it can be very difficult to keep it accountable.
But sometimes even the formation of a CID lends itself to chicanery. In Columbia, organizers of a CID planned to have only the businesses within the district's bounds vote on a proposed sales tax, so earlier this year they crafted the bounds of the CID to include only businesses—excluding nearby residents who, in many cases, would be paying the proposed tax. Why would they cut out those residents? Well, when there are no registered voters in a CID, under state law the property owners vote instead. And since the district has already started spending money, a vote in favor of the sales tax by the property owners who supported it was all the more important to keep the CID functioning.