News

City Council approves Business Improvement District

Written by John Latimer, Lebanon Daily News | Feb 2, 2016 5:30 PM
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After a sometimes contentious meeting Monday night, Lebanon City Council narrowly voted to approve designating a large portion of the downtown as a Business Improvement District.

The vote was 3 to 2 with councilmen Tony Matula and Cornell Wilson casting the nay votes. Chairman Wiley Parker, Richard Wertz and Wayne Carey voted in favor of the program.

The vote followed a two-hour debate that included comments both for and against the Business Improvement District, which is a five-year economic revitalization program that is funded by the annual assessment of a 2 mill or $250 fee, whichever is greater, on commercial property owners in the designated area.

The roughly 15-square block BID area in Lebanon is as follows:

  • Cumberland Street, from 4th Street to 11th Street.
  • The north side of Chestnut Street, from South Seventh Street to South Partridge Street.
  • The south side of Chestnut Street, from South Seventh Street to South Ninth Street.
  • The north side of Willow Street, from North Cherry Street to North Seventh Street.
  • The south side of Willow Street from North Cherry to North Partridge Street.

Residential property owners and nonprofits in the BID area are exempt from paying the fee. The assessment will raise about $115,000 which will be used to hire a downtown manager to market the city by coordinating programs and events in the hopes of attracting more visitors.

Matula and Wilson foreshadowed their nay votes by comments each made at the outset of the meeting. Both expressed disapproval of the voting process, which heavily favors passage of the BID by giving votes to property owners in the zone who are not assessed a fee, and counting a non-response as a yes vote.

For the BID to have been disapproved, 40 percent of the 360 property owners voting had to file a notarized objection with the city during the 40-day voting period.

When that period expired on Jan. 12, it appeared that opponents had won when a total of 146 objections had been registered, two more than needed to defeat the program. However, when votes were reviewed by the steering committee that created the proposal and included the notarization rule, 13 objections were disqualified on the grounds that they were not properly signed by the owner.

The disqualified votes lowered the objection rate to 37 percent, putting the final approval in City Council's hands.

The overriding criticism from those who spoke against the BID, like commercial property owner Mike Mangano on South Eighth Street, is that the voting process was unfair.

"I believe this was ramrodded through; the way that the voting process was," he said.

Council Chairman Wiley Parker explained that most of the voting rules are contained in the legislative statute that created the BID program.

"Ultimately that's the cards we were dealt. That's the statute that we are dealing with," he said. "everybody who got one of those ballots, the rules were laid out there. Everybody was told what they had to do."

Mangano was one of a group of city property owners who went door-to-door collecting objections to the BID, which resulted in a testy exchange between him and Mayor Sherry Capello.

"I don't have a problem with you going door-to-door and explaining it to people. The problem I have is that you were giving out inaccurate information," she said.

Mangano denied the accusation.

Several others followed Mangano, complaining that the downtown improvement efforts are being paid for on the back of landlords who already are working to make the downtown better. Many predicted that the BID program will fail because of the high percentage of low-income residents living in Lebanon.

Capello countered that claim by noting only 3 percent of city residents receive Section 8 vouchers, although she did admit more than 10 percent receive public assistance and nearly 30 percent received food stamps last year.

Rental property owner John Light inferred that those who oppose the BID may refuse to pay the fee, which would create a lien on their property that the city would only collect when the property was sold. He also inferred that opponents might file a lawsuit.

"We got 40 percent strong opposition,' he said. "These 40 percent want to fight they want to stop this. They don't want to pay this."

The negativity eventually got to an exasperated Parker.

"Why can't we just try something. Why does Lebanon always have to be so negative?," he said. "This may fail. This may fall flat on its face. But at least we did something. Nothing is not an option."

Parker wasn't alone in his assessment. Several members of the BID steering committee spoke in favor of the program, as did a handful of others who are not in the zone but supported BID.

Craig Gates, who lives in Berwyn Park outside the BID zone. said he believes in it so much that he pledged to annually contribute $250 to the program.

"I actively urge City Council to approve this BID," he said. "Yes there are challenges but we need to look forward instead of behind, and make this happen so our city can be a much better place.".

Cindy Heisey, owner and manager of TempForce who served as chair of the steering committee, explained that the notarization rule was not added to make objecting to the BID program more onerous but to ensure that the rightful property owner was the one casting the vote.

"We did add the notarization. That was not part of the statute. It was something we thought was necessary to ensure we were getting the correct signatures," she said.

Before the BID becomes officials it must go through one more council vote. That is likely to happen at council's meeting scheduled for Feb. 22 at 6:30 p.m. in Council Chambers at the Lebanon Municipal Building.

Council's meeting was held on Monday because last week's regularly scheduled meeting was postponed on account of the recent record breaking snowfall.


This article is part of a content-sharing partnership between Lebanon Daily News and WITF. 

Published in Lebanon, News

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