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The babble of noisy rhetoric

The babble of noisy rhetoric

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 2.52.08 PMIt’s old news by now, but the outcome of two municipal propositions in last month’s election may give us a pretty good idea of where Columbia is headed. Although many cheered the resounding defeat of Proposition 2, which would have raised impact fees on new construction, we were just as disappointed by the failure of Proposition 1 that would have increased the property tax rate to finance enhancements to the city’s police and fire services. Confusion, misinformation and the babble of noisy rhetoric from a variety of sources undoubtedly played a part in both outcomes.

Voters displayed their anger about taxes, weighed down by layer upon layer of fractional fees when viewed individually but rising to aggregated levels approaching 10 percent once totaled up. The “apple-pie-and-motherhood” initiative-driven perpetual quarter-cent county children’s mental health sales tax passed a year ago because the measure’s surge of supporters went to the polls that day while the rest of us stayed home. But there were no angels on hand for the Boone County Event Center proposition last August to chase another sales tax proposal into the winner’s circle and ensure the survival of what some still affectionately refer to as the Boone County Fairgrounds.

Proposition 2 deserved to fail because it was poorly devised, somewhat unfair and punitive in nature and only vaguely outlined how its receipts would be used. Passage seemed assured at first. Then a group in opposition materialized to scoop up cash that aggregated to a low six-figure level to secure everything from polling and research to buying advertising. This is significant because a well-funded group of business leaders has finally been organized to challenge factions they believe are intent on throttling back economic growth and development across Greater Columbia.

Proposition 1, on the other hand, should have been approved. Here confusion reigned, and the city shares some of the guilt for failure. Voters had several salient misunderstandings going to the polls. The county has rebated the city close to $2 million after voters approved a designated sales tax for construction and operation of the new 911 facility relieving Columbia of its historic share of the costs. Voters thought this newfound bounty would go entirely for police and fire enhancements, when in fact the “gift” was already spoken for — municipal employee pensions and debt service, for example.

Then voters were deluded into feeling safe and sound because various indices of serious criminal activity have declined as Columbia continues to grow and expand. Although major crime calls might have been decreasing, there’s been no letup in the number of calls for service: calls for everything from security system false alarms and domestic brawls to the challenge of policing areas around various drinking establishments.

We are justly proud of our fire service and should pay for whatever enhancements are deemed necessary to maintain Columbia’s superior ISO fire insurance rating. On the other hand, we should be ashamed of how we have shortchanged the Police Department over the years. Things are looking up down at headquarters because Chief Burton has been rebuilding the department and restoring morale. Our underfunded Police Department remains housed in its somewhat shabby though historic downtown facility, and it remains a distant dream to secure funds to finance and build precinct substations in other parts of the city.

The city has decided to get serious about getting the message out by enhancing its public relations offensive. This is good. This will be easy. The tougher challenge will be finding new streams of revenue that voters would be willing to accept locked to ironclad guarantees that those revenues won

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