JEFFERSON CITY - If Columbia is looking for help in its fight against urban sprawl, it may come from the state legislature.
Several bills that have passed their original chambers and are awaiting a vote in the other could hinder urban sprawl in Missouri, though the bill-sponsors say that's not their intent.
One bill would provide substantial tax credits to anyone rehabbing or building new residences in depressed neighborhoods.
"We want to provide incentives for people to build in older communtities," said Rep. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County. "This represents one of the tools to fight urban sprawl in a state that has few tools."
In Columbia, the East Campus and North Central neighborhoods would qualify as depressed communities.
However, Columbia Rep. Chuck Graham doubts the bill will ease urban sprawl in Columbia.
"There is so much affordable housing outside the city limits that these credits will not have a great effect in Boone County," he said.
Critics of the proposal say that affluent residents in poor neighborhoods could receive huge tax breaks to replenish already nice homes.
This is likely the case in Columbia's East Campus neighborhood where the high population of students drag the otherwise comfortable community below the depressed neighborhood threshold.
The other bill would allow cities to guarantee a home's appraised value despite neighborhood decline. The so-called Home Equity Assurance Bill would give cities authority to levy a tax, upon voter approval, to fund reimbursements to homeowners who cannot sell at a price equal to the appraisal.
"This bill is a confidence builder," said Rep. Lana Stokan, D-St. Louis County. "It may help prevent people from leaving neighborhoods for fear of decreasing property value."
Both bills are sponsored by legislators representing some of St. Louis City's and County's declining, older neighborhoods. They introduced the bills to rejuvenate the waning communities.
Several legislator's said that public transportation would be another valuable tool to fight urban sprawl.
"Public transportation is an appropriate issue for the state to be involved in," said Columbia Rep. Tim Harlan. "Rural legislators don't think it's their problem. It's tough to sell them on it."
Columbia Senator Ken Jacob refused to comment on Columbia's urban sprawl issue to the Missourian.