COLUMBIA — The Special Business District wants to increase its marketing budget by 1,000 percent over this fiscal year to promote business and economic development downtown.
Its proposed budget, which was the subject of a public hearing at Monday night's meeting of the Columbia City Council, also would accommodate plans to change the Special Business District to a community improvement district to "create a vibrant 24-hour downtown," said Mary Wilkerson, chairwoman of the district's board of directors. The budget for fiscal 2010, which begins Oct. 1, calls for spending $25,000 to cover legal expenses for the change.
The district's budget for this fiscal year included only $1,000 for marketing, but the fiscal 2010 budget seeks $11,000. The marketing money would be used for radio, television and online advertising, and for mailings and sales promotions. In addition the money will be used for economic development marketing, Wilkerson said.
The purpose of economic development marketing is to make it easy for businesses to locate in the Special Business District.
"We are often the very first phone call," Wilkerson said, referring to those who inquire about locating downtown. District staff often act as a liaison. A database is used to keep track of relevant information such as open space or available rentals.
The change to a community improvement district also would further the marketing efforts to promote downtown. Currently, just less than 78 percent of the Special Business District's income comes from property taxes. The state's Hancock Amendment makes it virtually impossible to increase revenue from property taxes, said Carrie Gartner, executive director of the Special Business District. And without a community improvement district, it would be impossible to raise sales tax downtown without raising it citywide.
This shift to a community improvement district will happen in two phases, Wilkerson said. The first phase would be to circulate a petition among downtown property owners to authorize a vote on whether to create the district; the second would be to vote on the sales tax, which district officials have previously said would probably be a half-cent on the dollar. A draft petition is expected within the next two months.
The $25,000 in legal expenses proposed in the budget are to cover the cost of the petition. The legal requirements for the petition are complex and must be right, Gartner said.
The extra money raised from the sales tax would be used to increase marketing efforts even further. Assuming the community improvement district is created and the sales tax passes, the district would boost its spending on marketing to between $20,000 and $50,000.
Overall, the proposed budget for fiscal 2010 shows a $50,784 decrease from this year, down to $231,884 from $282,669. Most of the decrease is due to one-time expenses for a market analysis and a security camera pilot project that are not being renewed.
The district budget is subject to final approval by the City Council, which is scheduled to approve the overall budget for the city at its Sept. 21 meeting.