The Columbus City Council recently OK’d City staff to take another step toward creating a potential Business Improvement District (BID) in the downtown district to help fund future improvements.
The City Council conducted a public hearing on the intent to create the improvement district during its Feb. 21st regular meeting and approved a resolution stating the City’s intent to create the district, as well as the appointment of the DBIDB to proceed with the BID efforts.
“I think it’s great that the Council decided to continue pursuing the Business Improvement District,” City Planning and Economic Development Coordinator Jean Van Iperen said. “City staff will present the input that was voiced during the City Council’s public hearing to the BID Board. They can make adjustments to the boundaries and the parameters of the district if they wish based on the community feedback.”
In a business improvement district, as allowed by Nebraska State Statute, a city can levy a special assessment against property within the boundaries of such a district to fund certain projects. The general area of the proposed Columbus BID is between 11th and 12th streets to the area between 15th and 16th streets from 21st to 33rd avenues.
The Downtown Business Improvement Board (DBIDB) has been looking at the possibility of establishing an improvement district for several months. The volunteer board is comprised of Barbara Duffy, Kristin Stock, Kevin Johnson, Lindsay Thompson, Mary Nyffeler, Cory Reeder, Joshua Johnson, Robert “Bob” Stachura and Dick Tooley.
As currently proposed, a $200 assessment per $100,000 of valuation would be used for calculating the assessment of the properties. If ultimately approved, this year’s assessment would generate $69,197.09, with the city matching dollar-to-dollar for a total revenue of $134,394.18. Those who own more than one property in the district would be assessed for each property.
Single-family residences would be excluded from the assessment, as would entities that are exempt from paying property tax such as churches and government-owned buildings.
Improvements could include parking lot improvements, streetscaping, lighting, beautification efforts and wayfinding signage
“BIDs are great ways to make improvements in a specific area that the City would not ordinarily make. For example, adding tree landscaping, benches along the sidewalks or even planters to make the area a little more inviting would all fall under projects the BID could undertake,” Van Iperen said.
“Anytime you can create a pleasant walking environment in a downtown space, there are benefits. If you plant trees, they can lower temperatures in the area and provide shade and relief from humidity on those sunny days. They can lower the average driving speed, and there is even evidence that they improve air quality and increase property values. Another benefit of landscaping in the downtown area is that studies have shown a 12% higher income stream for businesses on treescape streets.”
During the public hearing, there were some who spoke to council in favor of the BID and others against it. Some concerned residents expressed their frustration in not knowing more about it before the hearing.
But Van Iperen shared with the City Council information about the BID was mailed out in October to property owners within the proposed district to provide details. The board then received feedback from property owners, adjusted the boundaries, figured possible assessments and eventually sent a second letter at the end of January and a hearing notification in February.
When discussion first started on the Downtown Revitalization Plan and the possibility of forming a BID to help fund some of the projects, Van Iperen appeared on local radio last year and had the City advertise public stakeholders’ meetings in newspapers and on social media.
During the Feb. 21st meeting, Van Iperen said 232 mailings were sent to property owners that would be located within the proposed BID, with 61 coming back as “no,” 34 coming back as “yes” and one “undecided.” Twenty-six percent of the property owners were against, but Van Iperen said at least 50% of those mailings would have needed to come back as no for the BID effort to fail.
This became a point of contention among some of the public in attendance, though state statute confirms what Van Iperen said at the meeting.
Neb. rev. stat. 19-4027: For the public hearing creating a BID reads:
“If a special assessment is to be used, proceedings shall terminate if written protest is made prior to the close of the hearing by the record owners of over 50 percent of the assessable units in the proposed business improvement district. If an occupation tax is to be used, proceedings shall terminate if protest is made by users of over fifty percent of the space in the proposed business improvement district.”
The business improvement district act also features the following:
19-4034(2): when actually levying the taxes the council sits as a board of equalization and
"Unless objections are filed with the city clerk at least five days before the hearing, all objections to the amount of total costs and the assessment percentages should be deemed to have been waived and the assessments shall be levied as stated in such notice except that the city council may reduce any assessment percentage."
One resident suggested that a sunset provision for a potential BID be included if it were to come to fruition to keep all those involved accountable. Van Iperen and members of the council appeared to be open to all ideas.
Van Iperen said the DBID Board will have its next public meeting at noon on March 7th at City Hall to discuss the next steps, hold an election of officers and set the next meeting date. The City will continue to advertise meetings as required by state statute.
“As we move forward on the discussion of the BID there will need to be at least one more public hearing before the City Council,” she said. “Once again, all property owners within the boundaries of the proposed BID will receive a notice of the public hearing through the mail. Staff will talk to the Board to see what recommendations they may have in getting the word out about the district.”
Van Iperen encourages people to call her directly at 402-562-4273 or by email at Jean.VanIperen@columbusne.us, or of the board members, with any questions they may have.
(ABOUT THE PHOTO: The Columbus City Council in the midst of a discussion during a recent meeting.)