(Editor’s note: While The State Opinion page will not make endorsements in the Nov. 5 Columbia City Council races, we have asked all of the candidates to provide replies to a candidate questionnaire.)
Name: Councilman Moe Baddourah (District 3).
1. Please provide some brief biographical information — including some detail on why you are running for this office.
* Master’s and bachelor’s degrees from USC’s hospitality program; associate’s degree in engineering.
* Proud father of two wonderful sons, Zeke (9) and Eli (7).
* Member of City Council since 2012.
I first ran because I saw a problem that needed to be fixed: City Council was spending water/sewer fee money on things other than sewer maintenance while our sewer system was in disrepair.
I’m proud to have led the effort to end City Council’s raids on our water and sewer fee dollars, which was our most destructive habit.
But there are still major changes that are needed to truly create a better, brighter future for Columbia — and that’s why I’m running again.
I want to preserve and improve our quality of life for future generations, including my two young sons.
2. What are the three biggest issues facing the city?
* Public safety. We need to prioritize public safety, especially property crimes and violence. We need to give our police the resources and support they need to keep us safe. I was a strong supporter of the proposal that was recently approved to purchase new surveillance equipment and 60 new police cars. But there is much more that must be done. My business fee reform plan would generate millions of dollars each year for the police department without raising taxes or fees.
* A tax system that strains funding for city services and puts higher than necessary costs on ordinary citizens. About 65 percent of the property in the city is tax-exempt, which means the remaining 35 percent of property owners foot virtually the entire bill for city services such as police and fire protection.
Our narrow tax base hurts all of us.
It has an impact on every issue we face from our ability to meet our police department’s pressing needs to our ability to fund vital quality of life services — and it also has an impact on our wallets.
My business fee reform plan aims to help remedy this.
Currently, the city automatically exempts any entity with an IRS tax exemption from business license fees; this includes some of our most profitable companies (such as hospitals).
Under my plan, businesses that are tax-exempt but otherwise operate as profitable companies – and that compete directly with private, taxpaying companies – would pay the same fees as everyone else.
The benefits would be enormous; it would improve funding for essential services such as police and ease some of the pressure on taxpayers.
We should no longer be willing to saddle ordinary citizens with the entire cost of city government while some of our most profitable businesses are not paying anything.
* A resistance to change. There is a general resistance to change in city government — even common-sense changes that are badly needed — and it holds our city back.
3. What are the three biggest issues facing your district?
The three most important issues facing District 3 are:
* Public safety. We need more officers and more surveillance cameras, and we need to increase patrols in neighborhoods.
* Our narrow tax base. Again, most of the property in the city is exempt from property taxes, so the entire burden of paying for city services falls on a relatively small percentage of property owners. It impacts each of us and every issue — our wallets, our safety and quality of life issues such as infrastructure. It is our city’s biggest problem, and we can take a major step toward fixing it by repealing the business fee exemption for profitable companies.
* Infrastructure (including stormwater drainage). Infrastructure, including stormwater drainage, is especially critical in our community.
The good news is that extensive stormwater drainage upgrades — of which I was a major proponent — are underway. (I believe most of the projects are in the planning stages.)
Infrastructure issues such as traffic safety and fixing potholes deserve more attention. These are the kind of basic needs that city government needs to prioritize ahead of less critical matters.
4. At the end of your term, what is one major accomplishment you want to be able to point to as your crowning achievement — a policy change, local project, etc. that you played a major role in bringing about?
I led the fight to stop the raids of our water and sewer repair money: the diverting of water and sewer fee dollars — which are supposed to be used for sewer repairs — to other uses.
It was our most harmful practice, and it left one us with high water rates and a crumbling sewer system.
After 17 years of treating our water and sewer fees as a slush fund, we finally abolished that policy.
It was a pretty major reform and my proudest achievement.
5. What do you want your legacy to be as a public official?
I have fought for the changes needed to move our city forward.
Reform never comes easy in government, and that’s especially the case in Columbia; I learned that firsthand.
It is an uphill battle, but I keep fighting because these reforms are necessary to make Columbia the best city it can be.
That’s what I’d like my legacy to be.