Oops! A gang of business cronies tried to ram a sales tax through, after redrawing district lines to remove residential voters from their district. Alas, didn’t know about Jen Henderson.

Caitlin Campbell from the Columbia Tribune reports a group of local business owners in Columbia, Mo. want to levy a half-cent sales tax hike for their Business Loop 70 Community Improvement District (CID). By state law, sales tax hikes require approval from voters. But when a city district contains no residential dwellings — and hence no voters — then the people who own the properties get to vote.

In April, the City Council voted 5-2 to approve the CID’s district boundaries, and the business/property owners then prepared to put their sales tax increase up for a vote in August. What they didn’t realize was that a 23-year-old University of Missouri student had moved into a University-owned house in the Loop, then registered to vote back in February.

The CID planned to hold an August election to enact a half-cent sales tax, projected to bring in about $220,000 of additional revenue for capital improvement projects. CID Executive Director Carrie Gartner said when CID officials contacted the Boone County Clerk’s Office about holding the election, they found out [Jen Henderson] registered to vote with her Business Loop address in February.

Ooops. As Caitlin Campbell wryly explains in the Columbia Tribune, the business owners had counted on the $200,000 their sales tax increase would have brought in. But thanks to their colossal screw-up, they are now at the mercy of a single college student: Jen Henderson.

A mistake by representatives of the Business Loop 70 Community Improvement District means a sales tax increase the district needs to thrive will require approval by a single University of Missouri student.

Oh, and guess what? CID Director Carrie Gartner told reporters the Business Loop 70 district’s already in the hole and desperately needs this tax increase.

Gartner said the CID has incurred “significant debt” the district hoped to pay down through the tax, including more than $100,000 it owes the city and for legal representation, $55,000 owed to Jack Miller of True Media and a $60,000 line of credit with Landmark Bank.

When asked if the CID could stay afloat without their sales tax increase, Gartner flatly answered, “No.”

Oh, but wait…the plot sickens. Gartner told reporters the CID tried to keep this, erm, minor complication on the down-low because the city clerk supposedly advised her to “protect” Henderson’s identity. But Jen Henderson told the Tribune she “doesn’t want her involvement with the CID to be private.”

Jen Henderson then alleged that back in June, Gartner approached her, presented the CID’s case, and asked her to think about “unregistering” her vote. Alas for the CID, the more Henderson looked into the sales tax hike, the less she liked it.

“[The sales tax increase] just didn’t seem to be as good as they were saying to me at first.”

For starters, Jen Henderson had concerns about how even a small tax hike would affect low-income residents in the area who may not live in the CID, but who still do their shopping there. While the neighborhood could certainly use some improvement, Henderson does not like how the sales tax applies to food and other necessities.

“Taxing [local residents’] food is kind of sad, especially when [Gartner] is going to be making like $70,000 a year off of this whole deal. These people make a quarter of that. They can barely afford to go buy food, and you’re taxing their food.”

On Monday, Caitlin Campbell followed-up to report the City Council voted to postpone the tax hike vote. And yes, Jen Henderson was there taking notes.

Photos (clockwise from top left): (1) Jen Henderson, the U. Missouri student who could have tanked a half-cent sales tax with a single vote (Nick Schnell/Columbia Tribune); (2) A CID board member told KOMU-8 the business district needs help and is “not very pedestrian-friendly area”; (3) Gerrymandered map of the Business Loop 70 Community Improvement District, which excludes all residences except for Henderson’s (Columbia Tribune); and (4) Business Loop 70 CID Director Carrie Gartner (Linked In).

Curses! Foiled by Jen Henderson: CID backs off on their sales tax hike.

To be fair, the improvements funded by the sales tax hike may be necessary, and may have helped improve the quality of life for Columbia’s residents. In addition, Carrie Gartner just joined the CID in April, after this whole fustercluck with Jen Henderson was well underway. The real issue is the high-handed way the business owners — who also apparently own these properties and stand to gain if their property values rise — blatantly gerrymandered their district so that the people affected by their sales tax increase would have no say in it how it would be applied and used.

After the City Council voted to postpone the sales tax increase, KOMU-8 spoke with a CID board member who insists that — although they should have pursued redevelopment in a more “positive manner” — Columbia’s business district really does need some help.

“It’s not a very pedestrian-friendly area. There’s parts of the business [district] that really needs to be cleaned up significantly. And we need to work with the city government and the county government to be an advocate for the Business Loop, to see to it that it redevelops in a really positive manner.”

Here’s the video with the news report on Jen Henderson and the Business Loop 70 CID.

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