COLOMBIA – Colombia will begin an economic study that found that high taxes are holding back growth in the region. This issue will play a role in a busy election year, given the objections of some heads of state and government.
The study, commissioned by the city and submitted to Columbia City Council in late 2020, found that high combined taxes from the city, Richland County, and school districts hampered investment, kept property values low, and Colombia’s population and employment growth lagged behind other major cities the State.
Now City Councilor Daniel Rickenmann is urging that a committee begin to deal with the report and consider possible solutions. Rickenmann and council members Tameika Isaac Devine and Howard Duvall will join forces in an initial working group to begin working out a process, the city council decided in a vote on February 2nd.
That was beyond the objections of Duvall, who said the issue should wait until after what is expected to be a brisk campaign season that could lead to four new faces on the council in 2022.
Rickenmann and Devine have already announced their intention to run for mayor after Steve Benjamin announced that he would not seek a fourth term. In addition to Rickenmann and Devine’s councilorships, the seat held by Sam Davis in District 1 will remain open as Davis plans to step down at the end of his term.
“I think the time is not right to do this study and look for solutions that will be hard to find during a heated mayor election and three council seats,” Duvall told The Post and Courier. “There will be great soundbites for people who want to beat up the city of Columbia, but it won’t make a big difference if something changes in the city of Columbia because the city of Columbia controlled what it can control, and that’s the Millage. “”
Rickenmann, who campaigned for economist Rebecca Gunnlaugsson’s $ 25,000 report, said working on possible solutions shouldn’t wait to begin.
“That was something before the election season, and we all knew it,” said Rickenmann when proposing a committee to other council members. “So let’s not use election season to slow down, because the real thing is Columbia.”
Benjamin said he would support the Rickenmann Committee, but said the city had done its part of his tenure through tax cuts and investment incentives. Any board convened should have a clear goal and not just “admire the problem” and allow Columbia to be a punching bag ahead of the November elections, Benjamin said.
The study found that the city’s property tax rate had decreased 4.4 percent since 2010, but Richland County’s millage rate fell nearly 24 percent, Richland One School District fell 15 percent, and Richland Two fell nearly 27 percent.
Changes require collaboration between governments and school districts to cut spending, combine services where possible, and encourage state lawmakers to revise a tax law that determines how much the taxable value of a home is over a period of time four years, according to the report.
Repealing the Tax Act in whole or in part, Act 388, would collect taxes on many, Benjamin noted.
“We have to encourage others to act because we have acted,” said the mayor in a spirited response to Rickenmann’s committee proposal.
Ricknemann proposed a panel with representatives from the city, county, school district and possibly a member of the business community. At least one member of the group should be someone with no political affiliations to get a taxpayer perspective, Davis said.
However, two members of the city’s first working group looking for the mayor’s office offer the possibility of political sparks. Devine said she and Rickenmann, both longtime council members, had spoken and the process should be kept informed.
The eventual committee tasked with handling the study will have to be technical, Duvall said, to handle the complex public finance issues.
“I think what is important about this working group is to make sure that they are solution-oriented and that they have no agendas to bring on the table other than solving the problem together,” said Devine.
Former Benjamin aide Sam Johnson has also announced his intention to run for Mayor against Devine and Rickenmann.
Contact Stephen Fastenau at 803-365-3235. Follow him on Twitter @StephenFastenau.