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MIDWAYUSA SEWER STINK: What did voters approve with 2013 bond measure?

Was the public really ignored?

COLUMBIA, Mo 9/10/18 (Beat Byte) -- When the Columbia City Council last week rejected the so-called Henderson Branch sewer extension, "they ignored the original vote to build the project approved by almost 80 percent of voters," former Columbia Tribune owner Hank Waters wrote Sunday.  

But that's not necessarily true. Columbia voters did not approve the 1.6 mile Henderson Branch sewer extension per se when they voted 80% in favor of a $32 million November 5, 2013 ballot measure

Public comments at a May 2018 Council meeting bear this out. "Some people had no idea what they were voting for five years ago," Peggy Fletcher said.  "I wouldn’t have voted for this."

News reports about the ballot measure mention the Henderson Branch once, in a chart of eighteen proposed projects; and a citizen committee charged with selling the idea focused almost solely on improving Columbia's existing sewers.  

At best, the ballot language left open the possibility of sewer extensions. No individual extensions were listed, by name, location, or price.  City officials estimated the Henderson Branch would have cost over four million dollars to construct, primarily benefiting Midway's two largest business owners, Larry Potterfield of MidwayUSA and Joe Bechtold of the Midway Truck Stop. 

Known as Proposition 1, the ballot asked voters, "Shall the City of Columbia, Missouri issue its Sewer System Revenue Bonds in the amount of Thirty-two Million Three Hundred Forty Thousand Dollars ($32,340,000.00) for the purpose of constructing, improving, repairing, rehabilitating, replacing, equipping, expanding, and extending the City-owned sewerage system?"

With a YES vote, voters would "authorize the City to fix, establish, maintain and collect rates and charges for the use and services provided by the City through its sewerage system, including all improvements and extensions thereto hereafter constructed or acquired by the City." 

Finally, the ballot authorized the city to pay off the bonds -- a form of debt -- in 25 years.  

City manager Mike Matthes and then-public works director John Glascock introduced the measure as Council Bill B194-13 in July 2013, calling for a special election.  "If approved by voters, the bonds will be used to complete capital improvement projects for the city's existing sanitary sewer collection and treatment systems, and to pay for the City's share of sewer line extensions, in accordance with city policies."

Potterfield and Bechtold decided the "city's share" of their sewer extension was almost one hundred percent, with Boone County contributing just over six hundred thousand dollars.  Their contribution: zero.

Council members have rejected the project twice, each time followed by a Potterfield threat.  The arms accessories manufacturer threatened to move his business to Texas after Council members voted 3-3 to deny the project in May; he threatened to run for Mayor of Columbia last week
 
Matthes' staff report lists projects the $32 million bond would finance: "replacing private common collector sewers; inflow and infiltration reduction projects; repair and rehabilitation of manholes and sewer lines; extending main sewer trunk lines in developing drainage basins; eliminating wastewater treatment facilities that discharge into city creeks; and upgrading the city's wastewater treatment facility." 
 
Reports and reactions about the sewer bond followed suit.  No one mentioned the Henderson Branch extension.

“I think the public understands that infrastructure needs repair and maintenance,” then-Mayor Bob McDavid told the Tribune.  “We have a whole list of projects we need to do and really a blueprint of infrastructure that needs to be repaired."

"The money will be used over the next five years to fix broken pipes, replace outdated lines and dig new manholes," KMIZ reported

"Eighteen projects are scheduled around Columbia, with the majority planned for the Fourth Ward," the Missourian reported.  "Director of Public Works John Glascock said in certain areas of the city the sewage pipes are made of clay and are cracked and leaking. Dealing with the issue of water in basements and sewage overflow can be solved by improving the inflow and infiltration of stormwater. Half of the proposed cost, about $16 million, would go toward those improvements.
 
"People with water in the basement are asking for this, too, and three dollars seems cheap to me," First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt said at an August 2013 hearing about the measure.
 
New development did come up, but the discussion was vague enough to avoid mentioning the Henderson Branch.  Only the Columbia Heart Beat and Keep Columbia Free worried about the ballot measure's "fine print" about extending and expanding sewer service.

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