Elections

Columbia candidates rip redevelopment plan

Candidates for District 4 City Council seat, from left, Kevin Fisher, Anthony Mizzell, Leona Plaugh, Walter Powell, Jr., and Dr. Mary Baskin Waters share a laugh during a debate at the Eau Claire Print Building.
Candidates for District 4 City Council seat, from left, Kevin Fisher, Anthony Mizzell, Leona Plaugh, Walter Powell, Jr., and Dr. Mary Baskin Waters share a laugh during a debate at the Eau Claire Print Building.

A plan for redeveloping two parts of Columbia came under fire Thursday from most City Council candidates.

Seven challengers called the idea of setting aside property tax revenues in those area - possibly backs by water and sewer fees - a mistake.

All called for city leaders to back off the plan, defended by incumbents Tameika Isaac Devine and Sam Davis.The pair are among the field of candidates on the April 6 ballot.

The disagreement came at a forum in Eau Claire sponsored by the Columbia Council of Neighborhoods.

All five candidates in District 4 - the southeast corner of the city - lined up against the proposal as financially dangerous for a City Hall already struggling with its finances.

"It's just not realistic," advertising executive Kevin Fishersaid. "It's just waiting there to cause trouble."

Others said the idea should be postponed until Richland County and Richland 1 school officials are willing to take part.

"If the county and school board are not on board, it's not going to work," said Tony Mizzell, a marketing executive and former county councilman. "I wouldn't support it unless everybody is at the table and rowing in the same direction."

That sentiment is shared by Heathwood neighborhood leader Mary Baskin Waters and former city manager Leon Plaugh.

"It's too risky for us to go it alone," Waters said.

"I see no reason for us to advance this singly," Plaugh said.

The plan - known as tax increment financing - is the first step in making a series of public improvements in the North Main corridor and USC's Innovista downtown that could spur new development, supporters say.

Devine and Davis called the complaints shortsighted.

There are many ways to pay for a vision that will unfold slowly as finances allow, they said.

The North Main area especially is "tired of being told not now," Davis said. "We've got to position ourselves to move forward when the economy turns."

But other candidates said a commitment to the plan is premature.

"Not to say never, but not right now," said real estate broker Walter Powell Jr., another District 4 candidate.

Antonio Williams, a challenger to Devine, said the chance of higher taxes and utility bills makes the proposal unacceptable.

And Grant Robertson, the other challenger to Devine, warned that the plan will lead to higher home values and taxes that will force out many low-income residents.

The challengers all said new spending ideas should be shelved until city finances are in much better shape, a step they said doesn't require advice from well-paid advisers.

"These are the kind of things that have got to stop," Fisher said. "Too many studies, too many consultants, too much money out the door."

But Devine warned against being "very reactionary" with spending cuts that could wind up doing more harm than good.

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