The three fundraising leaders in the race for Columbia mayor say they do not support raising property taxes but would push for increases in water and sewer rates to fix the city's decaying system.
But when it comes to attracting new businesses to the city to pay those property taxes and water and sewer rates, the candidates do not agree. That was the key difference among the three at a forum Thursday night, one of the last debates before the April 6 election.
Sixty-six percent of all Columbia real estate is exempt from local property taxes, including state government buildings, seven colleges and universities and hundreds of churches and nonprofits. That means owners of the remaining 34 percent pay the property taxes for everyone.
If the city is to get out of this problem, candidate Steve Morrison said, it has to develop a "community of inclusion."
"A community that is a talent magnet is an inclusive community," Morrison said. "When you come to government contracting ... you've got to focus on including people so that small business, black-owned business, woman-owned business, gay-owned business all are on your list and have an opportunity to come in."