Outspoken opposition to the new business improvement area (BIA) in Sidney forced the chairman of the BIA to address concerns before town council recently.
Cliff McNeil-Smith says the BIA in Sidney is still in start-up mode and has issued letters to all commercial property and business owners in the downtown core covered by the new program. This, he said, is an invitation to register as regular members in the BIA. It’s a formal process and he noted no one would be excluded.
“It will enable them to be part of the approval of the budget and to elect the board,” McNeil-Smith said.
Two speakers at town council on April 8 expressed concern about the use of their fees being funnelled through the municipality to the BIA. Rosemarie Bongers, owner of Avalon Spa, said the BIA posed a hardship on some businesses, amounting to yet another tax that some cannot afford in what amounts to a recession.
“Some businesses face $5,000 a month in lease payments and cost keep going up,” she said. “It’s a bad time to start a BIA.”
She encouraged the town to reduce commercial taxes to allow business property owners to fix up their buildings.
Bongers also spoke about how the BIA will run, misinformation that McNeil-Smith addressed in a rebuttal at council. He said each business owner and each property owner will get a single vote on the BIA board, should they decide to register as members. Should a property owner also own the business, they will get only one vote. Bongers said it would be more fair if there were two votes.
Restaurant and commercial property owner Chris Sdrakas said he hopes the BIA board spends the money wisely, figuring the BIA levy will cost him around $3,000 for his three properties. He said he hopes the BIA will work in increasing local business, but is concerned that it won’t.
Both speakers also said they dislike the counter-petition process.
McNeil-Smith said the existing board of the BIA will get it off the ground and will expand the board to 11 members at their planned annual general meeting on May 15, 7 p.m. at the Mary Winspear Centre.
To give the board an idea of people’s expectations and how to better market the community to the region, McNeil-Smith said there’s a survey online at sidneybiz.com. He said people are encouraged to take the survey, which will help inform the board of ideas and possible direction of the BIA.
“That information will come to the special open meeting of the board in May,” he said.
The BIA is also planning on meeting within three weeks with between 15 and 20 stakeholders in the community. McNeil-Smith extended an invitation to mayor and council as well as town staff. A date for that meeting had not yet been set.
Council backs the BIA
Sidney town councillor Marilyn Loveless said the BIA may cost money, but it will be used to benefit the town at large.
Councillors addressed some of the concerns of speakers at their April 8 meeting who are worried the new BIA is nothing more than an added tax on local business. Loveless said she wanted to ensure people that their worries have been heard, but hopes people will give it a chance.
“It is a method of dealing with tough economic times,” she said, adding she hopes people won’t become so entrenched that they cannot give it the benefit of the doubt.
“We’ve laboured over this decision (to pass a BIA bylaw),” added Coun. Steve Price, encouraging people to get involved to ensure they know where their fees are going.
“Council lobbied for a BIA for a long time,” added Coun. Lougher-Goodey, suggesting people with concerns need to get involved with the BIA and help direct its destiny.