Proposal would lower them, but also tie payments to business licenses
Crescent City Council members expect to hear from downtown business operators on Monday as they revisit an ordinance that would make Business Improvement District assessments mandatory.
The proposed ordinance reduces BID assessments to $50 for non-profit organizations and veteran business operators and $100 for retail shops, restaurants, financial institutions and service professionals in the downtown area. But operators would be required to pay the assessments if they want to obtain or renew a business license, and that has generated heated opposition.
According to the BID Advisory Board, the assessments would be used to pay for events such as the downtown Farmer's Market held on Wednesdays in the summer, and the Christmas parade. The assessments would also pay for new projects the Advisory Board is proposing, such as establishing wireless Internet in the downtown area.
If approved, the ordinance and a companion resolution levying the assessment would take effect in July, said City Manager Eugene Palazzo.
The Council voted 3-2 in favor of the ordinance and resolution May 21, with Mayor Rich Enea and Councilman Rick Holley dissenting.
Council members Kelly Schellong, Kathryn Murray and Ron Gastineau voted in favor. Supporters argued that the loss of foot traffic from events like the Farmer's Market and Christmas parade would hurt downtown.
"There are a lot of people that support BID and are going to be thankful of paying $100 instead of $400 and will continue to pay," Schellong said at the meeting.
Enea and Gastineau cited a survey the city conducted two years ago in which 73 percent of downtown business operators who responded said they weren't interested in BID.
Some business operators opposed to tying assessments to business licenses also pointed to that survey.
When the city sent out the survey two years ago, most business members chose not to reply, said BID Advisory Board member Cheryl Corpstein. According to her, out of 114 surveys sent out, the city received 52 replies and counted only 50.
But most of those who did participate responded negatively when asked if BID benefits downtown.
Diana Tomasini, owner of the Enchanted Florist on Third Street inside Tomasini's Enoteca, which is owned by her daughter, said she conducted a new survey with similar results. She said 65 business operators were against BID while 11 supported it. Tomasini said she also spoke with 11 business owners who said they would pay a BID assessment if it was required, but that they didn't really want to.
Even if the ordinance passes, she said, many business owners won't pay it.
"I met with Kelly Schellong and Kathryn Murray and I told them how I felt and how a lot of us feel," Tomasini said. "We have protested until we're blue in the face. We want it gone."
Corpstein and BID President Billie Kaye Gavin-Tygart were unavailable for comment Friday.
BID assessments currently range from $167 for retailers with up to three employees to $432 for retailers with 10 or more employees, according to the Crescent City Municipal Code.
Restaurant owners and service businesses pay $150, professional businesses pay $100 and financial businesses pay $400. Non-profits and booth renters in the downtown area are currently assessed $50.
The Crescent City Council meets at 6 p.m. Monday at the Flynn Administrative Center at 981 H St. Agendas are available at www.crescentcity.org.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at firstname.lastname@example.org.