Columbia, Missouri Boasts Affordability, a Collegiate Vibe, an OLLI, Plentiful Cultural Amenities and Excellent Medical Facilities
Cost of Living: Below the National Average
Once the stomping grounds of Daniel Boone, leafy Columbia, Missouri (population 120,000) is located roughly half way between Kansas City and St. Louis and started out as a stage stop along the Santa Fe and Oregon Trails. Early town leaders had bigger plans in mind, however, and set aside land for the University of Missouri (33,000 students), which opened in 1840. Two more colleges were established, including the first women's college west of the Mississippi River, and Columbia soon became known as an education hub. Today, this pleasant, welcoming city, with its mix of Southern sensibilities, growing sophistication and Midwestern common sense, often lands on "best places to live" lists.
The city grown by 13% within the last decade and it has some racial diversity. The crime rate meeets the national average. Columbians, as locals are known, are educated (50% have an undergraduate or graduate degree), and they lean to the left politically. Twenty-five percent of them are age 45 or better.
The cost of living is 5% below the national average, and the median home price is $185,000. Homes come in all shapes and sizes, including single family homes, condominiums, town homes, apartments and manufactured homes. Older neighborhoods are toward the center of town and closer to campus, while newer subdivisions are found further out, particularly on the north and south edges of town. Modest but well-maintained homes in older neighborhoods can be found for less than $100,000. Brand new brick homes with 2,500 square feet, cathedral ceilings, granite countertops and a marble foyer are available in the $300,000 range. TigerPlace is 55+ independent living community.
Missouri is a mixed bag when it comes to retirement and taxes. Single people whose annual adjusted gross income is less than $85,000 and married people whose annual adjusted income is less than $100,000 are exempt from Social Security taxes. For public pensions, the exemption limit is $37,089. People with less than $25,000 income per year (single) or less than $32,000 income per year (married) may deduct part of their private pension income from state taxation. Military pensions are not taxed by the state. IRAs and 401(k)s are taxed at regular income tax rates between 1.5% and 5.9%. Real estate is assessed at 19% of market value, and the Missouri Property Tax Credit Claim gives qualified seniors a credit of up to $1,100 on their real estate property tax. The annual taxes on a $185,000 home are approximately $1,815. The state sales tax is 4.2%. Prescription drugs are not taxed, but some food is taxed at 1.2%.
Downtown is active and known as The District. Ringed by three colleges, it is has an eclectic mix of restaurants, shops, boutiques, sidewalk cafes, jazz clubs, movie houses, coffee shops and bars. The city also has nearly three dozen art galleries that house and exhibit everything from jewelry to paintings. The University of Missouri Museum of Art and Archeology has 13,000 works of art and artifacts. The Boone County Historical Museum features fine art and a genealogical research library. The Missouri Symphony Orchestra and the Missouri Contemporary Ballet are professionl groups with full performance schedules. Columbia also supports two old fashioned, paper-edition daily newspapers, a rarity these days.
Festivals and events add to Columbia's lively atmosphere. Art in the Park is an annual art fair that draws more than 90 painters, sculptors and potters. The yearly Columbia Festival of the Arts is a celebration of literary, visual and performing arts. The True False Film Festival is a celebration of film with screenings, parties and workshops by filmmakers and critics. The Blind Boone Festival, a ragtime music gathering, the MoJazz Music Festival and the Heritage Festival, which features exhibits honoring Lewis and Clark's legacy, are also fun. There are poetry slams, international food markets, a Saturday farmers' market and a gay pride parade.
Sporting events and outdoor activities are abundant. The University of Missouri Tigers give fans plenty to cheer, particularly in the fall when football season arrives. Columbians also enjoy six golf courses, as well as greenbelts, extensive bicycling trails, nearly 50 parks and 30 publicly funded community gardens. Outdoor-minded retirees particularly take to the MKT Nature Trail, a five mile urban walking path through dense woods. Finger Lakes State Park, Rock Bridge State Park and Grindstone Nature Area are all close by and provide quiet spots for hiking, camping and fishing. The 1,350-acre University of Missouri campus has more than 5,000 trees and 650 varieties of plant life, making it a great choice for an afternoon picnic or stroll.
There are numerous shopping malls, including Columbia Mall, which has a Dillard's, Sears, Target, Barnes and Noble and 140 other stores. The Daniel Boone Regional Library receives great reviews for its beautiful building, helpful staff, expansive book collection and cozy cafe. It also has public computers and free wifi Internet access. The city has 90 houses of worship.
Columbia Transit provides fixed route public bus transportation and a "curb to curb" service for disabled residents. For those who want to leave town by air, Columbia Regional Airport has daily flights to Dallas, Texas and Chicago, Illinois. Overall, city traffic is not bad.
In 1822, the first Columbia hospital opened its doors in Dr. William Jewel's home. Nearly two hundred years later, Columbia has three hospital systems and several teaching and research hospitals. The city is second only to Rochester, Minnesota in patient capacity per capita. One in six residents works in a health-related profession, and the physician density is three times the national average. University Hospital, operated by University of Missouri Health Care, is a Level I trauma center, a primary stroke center and award-winning for emergency medicine. It also opened a state of the art cancer center in 2013 and has been named a Top Hospital by "U.S. News and World Report." It is accredited by the Joint Commission and accepts Medicare patients. Columbia is also home to the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veteran's Hospital.
The Columbia Senior Center has a good menu of services and activities, including dances, card games, movies, health screenings and reasonably-priced meals. The Boone County Council on Aging is a referral agency that helps retirees find local services and programs. Opportunities to volunteer are in abundance and include working with kids through the Parks and Recreation Department, assisting with various Neighborhood Watch programs and working with the Columbia Hospitality Corps. The University of Missouri also an OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute). As with other OLLIs, this one has courses "designed to complement the interests, concerns and lifestyles of the over-50 adult." Tuition is $240 per year.
This region of the country has four seasons and on average receives 40 inches of rain and 25 inches of snow each year. Summer temperatures reach the low-90s, and winter temperatures dip into the 20s and 30s. On the comfort index, a combination of temperature and humidity, Columbia is below the national average. The sun shines 192 days of the year. The air quality meets the national average.
Even with all of its character and energy, Columbia has its drawbacks. The number of students and the fact that many businesses cater to them is not everyone's cup of tea. The city is a little isolated, a two hour drive in either direction to reach a large metropolitan center, and air service is somewhat limited. Apartments are generally not available because most of them are continually rented by students. Urban sprawl is evident despite city plans to control it. The chance of a tornado striking is 25% greater than the national average. The poverty rate is above the national average, but this is attributed to the large student population.
Yet even with its downsides, Columbia continues to grow, offering a reasonable cost of living, a collegiate vibe and a progressive outlook. It it a great retirement spot!
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