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The city is asking voters to approve a lodging tax increase to help fund the planned terminal expansion at Columbia Regional Airport. The tax increase, named Proposition 1 on the ballot, will go to voters on Aug. 2. Before then, look over this quick rundown of the Prop 1, the airport terminal project, and the players involved.

 

So what’s being taxed?

Hotel rooms. Prop 1 concerns the city’s lodging tax, also called the “bed” tax, which is tacked onto the cost of hotel rooms in Columbia.

And how much do they want to raise it?

One percent, bringing the total tax up to five percent.

Hmm . . . seems high.

Between four and five percent would be about average for Missouri, and on the low end for a city the size of Columbia. The lodging tax in Independence is a little over six percent, and Jefferson City’s is seven percent. Springfield’s lodging tax is also five percent.

What would happen to the tax after the terminal gets built?

Prop 1 would keep the five percent rate in effect for a maximum of 23 years, but it would go back down to four percent as soon as the city is able to collect the $10 million dollars it’s looking for to help build the terminal.

But $10 million doesn’t cover the cost of the whole terminal, right?

Right. The city expects the terminal project to cost about $38 million, so the tax increase would pay for a little over a quarter of the project. The city is also seeking a $20 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration, and they plan to generate the rest of the revenue through other measures, including, possibly, parking fees at the airport and increased passenger costs.

Why do we need a new terminal anyway?

The current terminal was built in the mid-’60s, and subsequent airport security upgrades have made things a little cramped. The city has been using a double-wide trailer to supplement the main terminal. COU traffic has been growing in recent years, and the city feels more terminal space is required to push passenger numbers any higher. City Manager Mike Matthes recently wrote about the airport in CBT. 

Who’s for it?

The Columbia Chamber of Commerce endorsed Prop 1, saying an improved airport would provide an economic boost to the region and help with business recruitment. MU has also endorsed the tax increase, as have several businesses, such as Shelter Insurance. The city, obviously, also supports the increase.

And who’s against it?

The Columbia Hospitality Association, a group of hoteliers led by Tiger Hotel owner Glyn Laverick, is campaigning against the tax increase on the grounds that the city hasn’t sufficiently planned out the terminal project. The group built a website, www.noplannotax.com, to host their concerns.

And HAS the city sufficiently planned out the terminal project?

Depends on how you look at it. The city has had its eye on a new terminal for a while (they included it in the 2009 Airport Master Plan), so it’s not like the idea came out of the blue. The city hired a consultant for the project, the firm Parsons Brinckerhoff, which came up with the $38 million project cost and released some ideas for the new terminal.

Most of the CHA’s concerns are related to the project’s budget, which is contingent on the yet-to-be-approved FAA grant. The city released answers to a list of questions from the CHA, and the plan seems to be flexible — the city plans on using the tax dollars to improve the terminal in some capacity, even if it fails to secure the entire $38 million needed for a new building.

What are the odds that the city gets the FAA grant?

Pretty good, especially if you take a long-term view. The city has had good luck with FAA grants in recent years, which means COU has a reputation for using grant money successfully. And, as the city indicated in their response to the CHA’s questions, they’ll probably just keep applying for the grant until they get it.

And what happens if Prop 1 isn’t approved?

The city has indicated that they’re not waiting any longer to make improvements to the terminal, so if Prop 1 doesn’t pass, the city will probably look for revenue elsewhere — and that could mean anything from a paid airport parking to an increase in sales tax.

 

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