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Columbus News

Posted on: May 25, 2023

Councilman Jablonski defends BID, pushes for more community engagement


City Councilman Rich Jablonski isn’t shy in sharing his love for volunteerism, as he has always taken pride in serving his community in many ways.

In addition to representing the Third Ward on the Columbus City Council since first being elected in 2010 (he was reelected in 2014 and 2018), throughout the years Jablonski has helped Columbus by taking on numerous volunteer roles.

His years of service include being the past president of local nonprofit Big Pals-Little Pals, past treasurer of the Columbus Area Chamber Board of Directors (2003-2004); a former Chamber Commodore skipper (2002-2003); past co-chairman of the general business division of the United Way; charter member of the St. Isidore’s Knights of Columbus; past chairman of the Citizen Advisory Review Committee; and being a Sertoma Club member since 1985. Jablonski was awarded the local “Sertoman of the Year” honor in 2008 and crowned King Ferdinand XL for the 2014 Columbus Days extravaganza.

But during the May 15th City Council meeting, Jablonski took a few minutes following a lengthy discussion regarding possible improvements to Frankfort Square to highlight the volunteer Downtown Business Improvement District Board. The board is made up of downtown business owners who were appointed by Mayor Jim Bulkley.

The board was brought up earlier in the meeting during discussion over the plans for Frankfort Square improvements that were ultimately modified (learn more about that here), though it was noted at the meeting the BID board only made a recommendation for those plans and didn’t have any other part in developing them.

“They are just a volunteer group. They’re trying really hard to do good things for the community. This is why we have these kinds of meetings,” Jablonski said during the Council meeting of the BID board. “… I certainly don’t want to be throwing those people under the bus. They’re trying really hard to do good things and I think they need your input into what’s going on.”

As previously announced, the Downtown Business Improvement District Board will seek final approval from the Columbus City Council on Monday, June 5th, 2023, to proceed with its plans.

The previously announced assessment that was shared with the public and will be presented to City Council is based on a $200 per $100,000 valuation per county records, with a $750 cap per property. It would net $45,827.26 in year one, but the City of Columbus would also match that amount, to give the board a first-year budget of approximately $91,654.52. Owner-occupied single-family residences would be excluded from the assessment, as would tax-exempt properties such as churches and government-owned properties (businesses that have residential rental units on their second story would still be included).

The idea for the Business Improvement District is to allocate funds generated to projects that can help revitalize the downtown district and make it a destination for residents and visitors.

Jablonski explained he has been at public meetings, such as the April 18th BID Town Hall at the Columbus Innovation Center, and heard critical feedback from some about the potential for a Downtown Business Improvement District.

The councilman reflected on those comments on May 25th in a separate conversation, noting the public should respect anyone who volunteers their time to try and help the community at large, regardless if they like or dislike certain ideas.

“We forget that at some point we have to compromise and at least look at what they resaying …. “ said Jablonski, who also owns two buildings within the proposed BID boundaries. “We can’t scare these people off. I want people to continue to volunteer and take pride in their community. (The BID committee) is at least trying to make things happen.”

The City of Columbus posts public meeting notices in the local newspaper in addition to a schedule of public meetings on its website. The local government agency also shares information on its social media channels. The Nebraska Open Meetings Act guarantees that every meeting of a public body shall be open to the public in order that citizens may exercise their democratic privilege of attending and speaking at meetings of public bodies.

But often the Columbus City Council and other public meetings don’t generate large turnouts from the public unless there are hot-button issues on the agenda.

Councilman Jablonski said he finds it disheartening more people don’t regularly attend public meetings and then later tell the Council they didn’t know a topic was being discussed until recently. He said the public has to be more engaged and take steps to stay in the loop if they want to know what’s happening with their local government and community.

“Take some pride in finding there is a meeting somewhere,” Jablonski said. “Do not just wait until it happens.”

(ABOUT THE PHOTO: Councilwoman Katherine Lopez, left, and Councilman J. Prent Roth listen as Councilman Rich Jablonski speaks about the Downtown Business Improvement District Board during the May 15th Columbus City Council meeting in the City Council Chambers.)

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