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Group reluctant to move up projects in strategic neighborhoods

Planning and Zoning commissioners chose not to move up any projects that might help three areas of town the city has focused on.

The commission sent its recommendations for the fiscal year 2018 capital improvement plan to the Columbia City Council on Thursday. The plan lays out a $90 million road map of improvements to city streets, utilities and public safety, paid in part by a quarter-cent sales tax.

The commission had the ability to tweak which projects the city should consider on its plan due to recent or upcoming developments. Commissioners ultimately asked for further study of parking and trash handling for the downtown area, and greater transparency and accountability as to which projects were being completed in various neighborhoods.

An ABC 17 News analysis showed just six of the 90 projects listed in the 1-2 year range of the CIP came within the strategic neighborhoods, accounting for 13 percent of the money requested in the CIP. A new police substation in the north neighborhood is the single largest project on the list, accounting for more than $8 million. The count does not include the projects considered “citywide,” such as its water collection system.

The commission passed on accelerating the timeframe of any projects that fall within the city’s three strategic neighborhoods. Commissioner Sarah Loe felt they didn’t have enough information on the areas to justify moving some projects ahead of others – ones that might be as deserving.

ABC 17 News has covered the city’s efforts to improve quality of life in neighborhoods located in the north, central and east parts of the city. The neighborhoods have poverty and unemployment rates higher than the city’s average, and City Manager Mike Matthes dedicated renewed attention to the areas from city staff.

Commissioner Michael MacMann said work in those three neighborhoods needs to happen. The areas have spent decades without significant investment in improving streets or utilities, and MacMann said the capital improvement plan might help them.

“If these neighborhoods have not been the recipients of, maybe, some of the dollars and some of the focus other neighborhoods have for the last 50 or 60 years, let’s do a little bit of that. Let’s put some money behind it.”

Meetings and time listening to residents is much needed, MacMann said, but money will prove the dedication to making the areas better. While capital improvement work may not boost peoples’ wages, MacMann said, it could raise homeownership levels. Improving utilities and roads could also raise property values in the area.

“That can put value into people’s pockets, right away,” MacMann said.

Loe and others said the group lacked the proper data to know which projects would need to be moved up to have a positive impact. MacMann said the lack of information, such as sewer back ups in the neighborhoods, also illuminated a problem.

The city council will have final approval on the plan during its budget discussions this summer. A project’s inclusion on the CIP list does not guarantee the project will happen. Departments request money gained through the CIP sales tax for various projects.

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