Proposed downtown reorganizing could double budget through sales tax

Friday, November 20, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Downtown organizers predict their budget would more than double if property owners approve a community improvement district, with most of the increase coming from a proposed sales tax.

The proposed district would replace the existing Special Business District and Central Columbia Association.

Community improvement districts

What is a community improvement district?

A public body or not-for-profit corporation established to collect money from business licenses, property taxes, sales taxes or user fees within a particular geographic district. That money is used to provide services within the district, including (but not limited to) maintenance, marketing and capital improvements. The district is governed by a board of directors.

Community improvement districts are established by a petition among property owners. The CID must receive the approval of both a majority of property owners and a majority in a petition where each landowner’s vote is proportional to the amount of land they own. Registered voters residing in the district must approve taxes and fees collected by the district.

Proposed Board of Directors

The petition contains a proposed board of directors for the community improvement district. Members would serve a three-year term, but the proposed board has staggered terms to regulate turnover. Future board members would be appointed by the mayor and approved by City Council. The proposed board members are:

  • Deb Sheals (3 years);
  • Richard King (3 years);
  • Sean Spence (3 years);
  • Allan Moore (3 years);
  • Christina Kelley (3 years);
  • Michael Wagner (2 years);
  • Gary Kespohl (2 years);
  • Skip Walther (2 years);
  • Adam Dushoff (2 years);
  • Marti Waigandt (2 years);
  • Larry Colgin (1 year);
  • Paul Land (1 year);
  • Michael McClung (1 year);
  • Blake Danuser (1 year); and
  • Erin Keltner (1 year)

"That's a big deal for both of those boards and everyone who owns property and does business downtown," said Mike Vangel, chairman of a steering committee in charge of the transition.

The two groups have a combined budget of about $218,000, most of which comes from business licenses, property assessments and member dues. A projected budget for the community improvement district is expected to be nearly $500,000.

The community improvement district, unlike the existing organizations, could charge a half-percent sales tax within its boundaries, and that would account for the lion's share of the increase.

Organizers expect to collect $300,000 of the $500,000 from downtown shoppers every year. The rest would be mostly generated through property assessments.

The projected numbers come from a petition that will be circulated among downtown property owners, who must approve the new district's formation. The petition was approved this week by the two groups' boards.

The sales tax would also need approval from registered voters living in the district.

Carrie Gartner, director of both existing groups, said the budget projections are just an estimate.

"It's designed to let people know where the money is being placed and where the priorities are," she said.

The proposed budget would double the money used for cleaning and maintenance, public safety and beautification.

"We want to make sure the district is both clean and safe," Vangel said. "That's very appealing to both merchants and visitors."

New budget items include:

  • hiring a business support manager,
  • research and marketing to prospective businesses,
  • consumer marketing, including promotions and events.

The new organization would eliminate the business license fees collected by the Special Business District — something Gartner called a "nuisance fee" that serves as a barrier to starting a business downtown.

The business support manager would manage a database of property owners and tenants, set up incentives to attract new businesses and assist with zoning and permit challenges.

Gartner said the petition drive will start in January. The CID would be formed as soon as enough signatures are collected and the petition is filed, she said, ideally within 60 to 75 days.

The City Council has already approved a fiscal year 2010 budget for the Special Business District, which is officially a government body. Gartner said that if the petition passes, that organization will fulfill its obligations for the rest of the fiscal year before the community improvement district budget is adopted.

"We need to make sure the transition between the SBD and the CID is done in a way that we don't double-charge people," she said.

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