Council passes first three readings of new BIA bylaw

NANAIMO – Minimum tax lowered for smaller properties, city to continue matching grant.

A more equitable assessment-based tax formula will help reduce the levy amount for a significant number of smaller downtown businesses as part of the new Downtown Nanaimo Business Improvement Association’s bylaw renewal process.

According to the bylaw, which had its first three readings approved by council Monday, the minimum BIA tax on properties with an assessed value of under $275,000 will be reduced from $562.75 in 2013 to $250 in 2014 with the amount increasing one per cent per year until the contract expires in 2018.

In 2014, 178, or almost half of the properties in both BIA 1 and BIA 2, will see a reduction down to the minimum while 80 per cent of the properties will pay less than the 2013 minimum of $562.75.

At the same time, the maximum levy has been increased from $5,000 to $6,000 for properties with high assessments. According to a staff report, only three properties in BIA 1 will be affected by the increase.

The move is designed to accommodate smaller business and property owners that have shown displeasure in the past paying high levy amounts without receiving any real benefits.

During the last BIA bylaw renewal process five years ago, downtown property owners almost voted out the city’s BIA program because of concerns over high levies and how they were being distributed. The process barely survived an alternate approval process, a complicated and sometimes confusing process that requires property owner initiative and awareness to cast a vote.

“We’re hopeful there will be more widespread support this time,” said Al Kenning, city manager.

That same process will be used again to gauge BIA membership contentment and to finalize the new bylaw. The city will mail out the petition May 1 with a deadline for returns set for June 10. If members support the program, council is scheduled to vote to adopt the bylaw June 24.

John Cooper, spokesman for the DNBIA, said downtown revitalization relies heavily on a successful BIA program.

“Every successful downtown has a BIA and every community that is working to have their community more attractive is looking to establish a BIA,” said Cooper. “If we’re looking to establish Nanaimo as a destination and compete amongst all of the other alternatives for business and residents to locate in western Canada, you need to recognize the importance of a thriving and healthy downtown.”

Since 2002, when the Downtown Nanaimo Partnership Society (the predecessor to the DNBIA) was created, the city has matched total BIA levies with taxpayer money for about $200,000 annually for a total budget of about $400,000.

Coun. Bill McKay wondered how long the taxpayer subsidy will continue.

“At what point is public funding weaned off or discontinued in your mind? It seems that what you’re saying is this is something that must stay in perpetuity. Is there a target when we say we’ve arrived?” McKay asked Cooper.

Cooper responded by saying downtown has come a long way in the past 10 years, but there is still a long way to go. He added that council has the ability to pull the plug on public funding whenever it feels downtown revitalization is no longer a priority.

“Now would not be a good time to do that,” said Cooper.

With the mayor excused from the vote due to potential conflict of interest – he owns a property in the BIA zone — council voted 5-3 in favour for the first three readings.

Some minor housekeeping changes to the new BIA bylaw if approved, include contract expiration Dec. 31 instead of June; allocation of tax funds from the city to the DNBIA will now take place in mid July instead of the end of September; and the minimum levy amounts. Remaining the same will be the five-year term and the geographic boundaries of BIA 1 and its 326 properties, and BIA 2 and its 68 properties.