Public Safety

We must continue to support the Columbia Police Department’s growth and improvement through creative funding strategies. There are a multitude of resources the department would like to pursue if the money were available. We need to be more aggressive in pursuing funding and partnerships to make these resources a reality.

The city has been able to provide raises and more competitive wages over the past few years, ensuring recruitment and retention. A higher focus on personnel has proven to be effective, but finding funding for advanced technology will enhance public safety tactics. For example, the city currently has two shot-spotters, with a need for 6-7 to cover the entire city. Technology has become extremely advanced in combating violence and needs to be obtained for the entire city.

As a city, we must continue to promote community policing. We must continue to train our officers as peacekeepers and community builders. We should also continue initiatives like “roll call” so that community members see transparency from law enforcement and feel connected to them.

We have to address the systemic issues that lead to crime trends in the city and partner with organizations to address the needs of the youth, the parents, and the school system. Education is of utmost importance when it comes to breaking the cycle of crime. We must partner with organizations, churches, and neighborhoods to help end the desensitizing of gun violence in certain areas. If areas are desensitized to gun violence, they don’t report it regularly.

The city should lead the way in collaborative practices that will help our youth, parents, and school systems.

Business Retention & Economic Development

Over 70% of institutions in the city of Columbia are not on the tax rolls.

Columbia needs to lead the way in collaborative conversations with the institutions that are not on the tax rolls so that we can discuss ways in which the City of Columbia does not have to carry the burden alone.

Columbia must provide the manpower to ensure that all business practices are equitable and that every business pays its fair share. We must be willing to have tough conversations with institutions that bring in high revenue that carry little to no cost for the services provided by the city. There is $3-4 million in potential revenue from these institutions alone.

Businesses are closing or choosing to relocate/open across the river. Because of the issues related to the tax roll, business owners have decided to open in Cayce or West Columbia because their profits will be 66% higher comparatively.

It is much easier for businesses to develop across the river and still be a part of the metropolitan feel Columbia has to offer. I have spoken to small business owners who mention the extra steps and difficulties they face in the city. There are too many hoops to jump through and technology needs to be improved for ease of access to essential filings.

I’m a small business owner myself. I understand tax burden; but, it’s part of doing business.

Economic development has lagged compared to other cities in the Southeast, even compared to capital cities of relative size. Over a period of several years, Greenville has been successful in developing a master plan and in getting buy-in from city and county governments, businesses, and residents in order to implement major initiatives. They brought every stakeholder to the table to create a unified vision moving forward. Columbia must do better in involving ALL interested parties in moving Envision Columbia forward. The lack of adequate follow-through and, in some cases, poor contract management have been contributing factors in the failure or underperformance in recent years of many of the City’s public/private initiatives and other business ventures.

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Infrastructure, Floodplain Management & Public Transportation

Aging and deteriorating infrastructure continues to be a neglected issue in the city, including city-owned buildings and parking garages, roads, water/sewer facilities, and public parks. There are complaints about delays in addressing infrastructure needs and the manner in which priorities are established.

Regarding the sewer and water fund, these dollars should not be drained to pay for improvements unrelated to those systems. I will resist any push to do this.

Completing the Columbia canal and improving our flood-plain management must be a top priority. It has been four years since the flood, and the Columbia canal is still in disrepair. This is due mostly in part to poor planning and execution. Floodplain management is an environmental necessity and an economic driver. Improving flood infrastructure saves our waterways from heavy pollution and rapid stormwater runoff. It is economical because it protects urban development and residential homeowners.

Better communication and collaboration should be pursued within the City of Columbia departments and with state agencies to address infrastructure needs. Increased planning and communication with the South Carolina Department of Transportation regarding roads and Department of Health and Environmental Control for the water and sewer systems are just two examples to expand collaboration.

The need for effective public transportation will continue to grow. The city must be supportive of the innovative strategies that the COMET is proposing and be willing to invest in public access.

With the hire of the new Executive Director of the COMET, the have become more innovative and have enhanced transportation systems that haven’t been addressed in over a decade. The city must be willing to invest in these strategies. One example, where the city has failed, is the Soda Cap Connector. West Columbia invested $10K, Cayce invested $6K, the City of Columbia invested nothing. If we want new initiatives, we have to invest in them. We must be willing to look at these equitable investments with a long-term perspective, knowing that they will provide economic growth in the future.

Columbia does not have an intermodal facility to include Amtrak, Greyhound, and COMET. This would be an asset to the city in multiple facets. If bureaucracy stands in the way, we will lose this opportunity too. Columbia must adopt the mentality that public transit is of utmost importance to everyone. It is a necessity for some individuals to get to work, buy groceries, and make a living. For others, it should be seen as a joyful alternative to other transportation methods when available.

Columbia must recognize that investing in complete streets is not only equitable, it is safer and economically enhancing. Complete Streets are important because they provide low-cost solutions to improve connectivity and make the city more livable for every single person. Many are tired of the city preaching equity but then claiming there is no funding or solution. The reality is that we are not pursuing funding that is available or collaborating with organizations that progress this type of infrastructure.

Riverfront Development, Green Spaces & Parks

Our river is not only an amazing natural resource, it also lends itself as a city attraction for outdoor ventures and riverfront development. Much like Austin, TX, Knoxville, TN, and Greenville, SC, it is possible to place waterway protections at the forefront, while still developing for the future.

We should:

  • Incentivize businesses to develop along the riverfront to encourage riverfront development and bring in more business revenue to the city.
  • Work in conjunction with waterway experts to ensure that we are meeting standards and protecting waterways. Greenville is a great example of a city that has developed on a clean and thriving waterfront.
  • Utilize a multitude of riverfront development resources including Riverlife’s Guide to Riverfront Development, Three Rivers Park Design Guidelines, Stromwater is the Communicator, Three Rivers Public Art Strategy in conjunction with our local experts in the field, such as Congaree River Keepers and Gills Creek Watershed Association.

According to experts, riverfront development has the potential to feature the riverfront as the front door to the city; showcase the river’s history; engage with the water; increase accessibility to ecosystems, urban development, and neighborhoods; and, repair and enhance the environment. Multiple studies have shown that the “economics of place” are extremely important in attracting and retaining talent. Investing in the riverfront is just one example of economics of place.

Our public parks could be central locations for public events, concerts, festivals, and community gatherings. The city is not a driving force in making that happen because we lack beautification and infrastructure (amphitheater, walkways, water, etc.). Parks and greenspaces promote equal access and community living. The city should become more proactive in adequately maintaining these gems, as well as more strategic in proper placement. A more livable city is a city that places emphasis on its natural resources. We must engage the community with innovative ideas, updates, and beautifications of those natural resources.

Food Insecurity

Nearly 20% of all residents in the Columbia Metro area aren’t sure where their next meal is coming from. Grocery stores are closing across Columbia. We must work to make options for residents for healthful, affordable, and high quality food in food deserts around the city. If we don’t, we are just passing the buck to the next department or government entity to deal with the problem.

This is the city’s responsibility because these are our city residents. We must be collaborative and work with organizations, investors, and entrepreneurs to rid the city of food deserts and insecurities. No matter your political affiliation, no person should go hungry!

Here’s how we can do it:

  • City tax incentives for locally-owned food businesses that are located in low income communities where most food deserts are located.
  • Increase zoning and land access for urban farms, markets, and non-commercial farm animals
  • Columbia should be more aggressive in pursuing grants and public funding that is designated to combat this issue long-term.
  • The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has many grant programs to support this kind of work. Applying for government funds can be daunting, but it’s necessary to address some of the short falls in our budget.
  • USDA Grants – Community Food Projects Competitive Grant Program – The original “food system” grant program, Community Food Projects Competitive Grant Program (CFP) funds non-profit organizations for projects to meet the food needs of low-income people by increasing their communities’ capacity to provide enough food for its residents.
  • Small, Socially Disadvantaged Producer Grant Program – The Small Socially Disadvantaged Producer Grant program (SSDPG) aims to provide technical assistance to socially disadvantaged, small-scale producers. Only cooperatives or an association of cooperatives are eligible to apply, and they must be proposing to provide technical assistance to socially disadvantaged producers that have averaged $250,000 or less in annual gross sales in the last 3 years.
  • FINI Grant Program – The Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant program was established by the 2014 Farm Bill to incentivize the purchase of fruits and vegetables by SNAP clients.

Safe & Affordable Housing

If we are going to be a city that offers public housing, we must be dedicated to ensuring that it is safe and that the residents are heard. With the deaths of Calvin Witherspoon and Derrick Caldwell Roper at Allen Benedict Court and the sudden and irresponsible process of closing the Save-A-Lot, the Housing Authority has failed the Celia Saxon neighborhood not once, but twice. We must hold them accountable and be more proactive in regulating and maintaining our public housing facilities.

There is an extreme lack of transparency coming from the Public Housing Authority. A prime example was the public hearing in which there was not a public comment section until after the meeting had started. There is a lack of oversight being done by City Council for major entities like the Public Housing Authority. Again, a tragedy had to occur for us to wake up to the harsh reality that we are failing.

I will do all that I can to ensure that families are not displaced or disregarded amid city growth. City growth is inevitable and it is good; but, it must be done strategically and equitably. Individuals who live in these neighborhoods should be brought to the table and valued as a part of the conversation related to development. Recognizing that housing affordability and residential displacement are not the only concerns and seeking the active participation of residents could capture their buy-in.

Tools that help areas amplify the upside potential of investment in low-income urban areas, while limiting the potential downsides of displacement or long-term segregation, have been an important part of the policy discussion between local communities and government. Columbia must do the same.

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