Rally against Columbia EEZ

Dozens of people are gearing up for a rally before tonightâ??s Columbia City Council meeting.

Members of a group called â??Keep Columbia Freeâ?? want to get rid of Columbiaâ??s EEZ plan that allows blight designations.

By a vote of 7 to 0, 2 weeks ago, Columbia city leaders approved an Enhanced Enterprise Zone program, or EEZ. The EEZ program gives tax breaks to some new and expanding businesses. Protestors said EEZ blight designations will lower the property values of some homeowners and give city leaders more power over eminent domain. Seven members of Columbiaâ??s EEZ Board are working on a smaller blight map for the city councilâ??s approval.

Columbia Councilman Gary Kespohl said, â??The map has not been introduced to council. Thereâ??s nothing to talk about, yet. Until the map gets introduced from the EEZ committee, we donâ??t formally have any diagram of what the new map looks like.â??

Opponents of the EEZ program said it doesnâ??t matter what Columbiaâ??s blight map looks like. They say the whole idea behind Enhanced Enterprise Zones is a fraud. After their rally, protestors plan to have 2 speakers talk about their opposition to Columbiaâ??s EEZ program during the council meeting.

Keep Columbia Free President Mark Flakne said, â??Its corporate welfare, plain and simple. We give a hand out to certain businesses and continue taxing our local businesses and local individuals at a higher rate. I think thatâ??s unfair.â??

Members of Keep Columbia Free want to put a measure on the November ballot that would give voters a chance to rescind Columbiaâ??s EEZ ordinance.

Tonightâ??s Keep Columbia Free rally begins at 6:30 p.m.

Columbia Council members are also expected to approve a rezoning request tonight for some new student apartments on the Southside of Walnut Street owned by Jon and Nathan Odle.

If the council approves the rezoning, the Odles said they will agree to buy FastCAT passes for all of their tenants.

FastCAT is the new Columbia student bus service thatâ??s scheduled to start in mid-August.