Twas' the night before voting when all through the house, not a creature was stirring...except those who grouse.
And grousing they were! "Our allowance is only going up $175,000.00?"
"Yup. And we need to give exactly a hundred grand back -- to Paquin Towers and the Pool."
"That Mr. Bill is sure a crafty fellow."
(Those are some of our heroes speaking -- members of the Columbia City Council, talking about their "discretionary fund.")
"How much does that leave?"
Councilman Karl ran the numbers. "I come up with $75,000.00. That's exactly what we had before!"
"That Mr. Bill -- he's sure a crafty fella."
CHAPTER THE FIRST: "SQUEAKY" TIGHT BUDGETS
A week later a list came in -- citizens beseeching the council for money on all manner of worthy projects. There was a proposal for affordable housing. And the school board wanted a first-ever early childhood education center. And of course, everyone wanted land for conservation. Councilman Karl wanted a bird-watching park. And Mayor Darwin -- well, he just wanted a park.
"Wait!" Councilman Paul said. He knew how to start big, cool projects on "squeaky" tight budgets. "Didn't I just read...YES! There's really cheap land all around Columbia. You just have to know where to look."
CHAPTER THE SECOND: BIKE, WALK, AND WHEEL
Councilman Paul rounded up a documentary film crew and our heroes biked, walked, and wheeled all around town. First stop -- an enormous lot right across from Mill Creek Elementary. They arrived on Sinclair Rd. and peered at all the weeds -- and trees.
"See -- it says right here!" Councilman Paul exclaimed. "133 acres, worth only $40,030.00!"
Everybody took a look. Yes, it was true. "My car is worth more than that!" someone said.
"Maybe this is farmland," Councilman Chris said. "Maybe that's why it's so cheap."
"Let's check it out," Councilwoman Laura said. "If it looks good, let's make an offer!"
They biked, walked, and wheeled around the lot, on Sinclair Road and the brand new sidewalk on Nifong. They saw a cable box and some new gas line outlets. They saw flags marking water lines, and a new sewer line outlet against the trees.
"Doesn't look like a farm to me," Councilwoman Barb said. "It just looks like a big, overgrown lot...about to become a subdivision."
"Look at this!" Mayor Darwin said, pointing to the street corner. "A fire hydrant, but not a building in sight."
"Yet!" they exclaimed all at once.
Just then, a woman from the school district rode by on her bike with a dog. The dog relieved itself on the fire hydrant and the woman slowly rode away.
"I'm calling Trib Talk!" Councilman Jerry said. "It really fries me when people do that, on a city hydrant no less!"
Our heroes biked, walked, and wheeled all around town. They found an inexpensive site for affordable housing -- 18.2 acres right in the heart of Thornbrook, complete with cul-de-sac, appraised for just $7,010.00:
For that new early childhood education center, they found 77 acres, for the low, low price of $12,090.00!
And for a roadside park, they found nearly an acre for just $370.00, on the corner of Nifong and State Farm Parkway:
There was an old, drooping sign near the road by the lot. "Vote YES on the School Tax!" it screamed.
Councilman Karl ran the numbers. "You're not gonna believe this," he told the other councilmembers. "After we buy all this land, we'll still have $16,000.00 left!"
"For art!" they exclaimed all at once.
CHAPTER THE THIRD: OUR HEROES MAKE OFFERS
At first, Stan Krankee, who owned the biggest lot, didn't wanna deal.
"I paid $2 million for that land 10 years ago!" he yelped. "That's my retirement! See!"
Councilwoman Laura wasn't buying it. "Are you farming that land, Mr. Krankee?"
"Farming? Well, er, uh....I guess you could call it that."
"Didn't you tell Assessor Tom you'd sell your property for forty thousand dollars?" Councilwoman Barb asked. "That's what he always says is the fairest way."
"Forty thousand? Well, er, uh....He does know the job, ya know!"
And though it went like this time and again, all over town you could hear the big developers yell: they had no choice at all but to sell, sell, sell.
CHAPTER THE LAST: PERCENT FOR ART
When word broke that Boone County developers were selling land for low, low prices, happy faces blossomed all around. Non-profit organizations, conservationists, working farmers, cities and school districts all over the county suddenly found themselves flush with land -- and cash.
"Squeaky tight budgets" finally loosened up, and the new assessor made sure everyone paid their fair share, being sure to point out the value of good corporate citizenship during tough economic times.
At the 2009 True/False Film Festival, the indie film "Really Green Acres" debuted. It won several awards, and at the very end, even caused a few ladies to choke up.
There they all were, every school board in Boone County, and every city council, from Hartsburg to Harrisburg. All the mayors and commissioners and even a few developers.
Teachers and students, professors and bankers. Phat Guys and thin guys and Stan Krankee, beaming.
Realtors and business owners. Farmers and preachers. Black and white. Stamper and Midkiff. Dems and Reps and Libertarians, too.
The entire rainbow of the Boone County experience, all standing for an enormous photograph, arm in arm, and smiling.
Over their heads hung a huge handcrafted sign naming Missouri's largest city conservation area -- right across from Mill Creek Elementary -- a place every birdwatcher in America was crowing about and every Columbia child wanted to see.
"Karls Darwin Park," the sign read, complete with bronzed photographers vest, sculpted by Hartsburg metal artist Don Asbee. Everyone said "cheese" and a big flash bulb went off for effect.
"We still have a thousand dollars left!" Councilman Jerry proudly announced. "Lunch, my friends, is on us."
The Real Story