Downtown shops consider alternative funding plan

Customers walk along downtown sidewalks Monday afternoon. A proposal to maintain the aesthetic downtown will call for a special assessment of $8 per square foot of street frontage for downtown businesses. The money would go toward maintaining sidewalks and flower baskets as well as helping pay for holiday lights.

Customers walk along downtown sidewalks Monday afternoon. A proposal to maintain the aesthetic downtown will call for a special assessment of $8 per square foot of street frontage for downtown businesses. The money would go toward maintaining sidewalks and flower baskets as well as helping pay for holiday lights.

Plans to beautify and maintain Jefferson City’s downtown inched forward Monday afternoon, after a three-member work team discussed the possibility of creating a Community Improvement District.

The proposal — which calls for a “special assessment” of $8 per linear foot of street frontage to pay for items such as snow removal, flower baskets and holiday lights — has been in the works for about eight years, but was tabled when civic leaders pursued other projects and delayed again as small business owners coped with a bad economy.

As currently envisioned, it does not include a sales tax, although that idea had been discussed in earlier versions.

The idea for the CID would work very similarly to the one that raises money to build sidewalks in the city’s Old Munichburg area. The Capital Mall also has a CID that includes a sales tax.

The boundaries of the CID district are not firmly decided, it’s likely they will frame a space between Capital Avenue to the north, McCarty Street to the south, Adams Street to the east and Jefferson Street to the west. Businesses like Arris Pizza Palace and Cafe Via Roma would be included; government buildings would not.

Churches and non-profits would be exempted from paying the special assessment.

Three supporters of the idea — Stephanie Bell, Lance Stegeman and Mark Mehmert — gathered at the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce offices Monday to hash out possible uses for the money the special assessment would raise. As envisioned, the special assessment would gather about $42,000 annually, Mehmert predicted.

To pass into law, the special assessment has to meet two criteria: it must be approved by a majority (50 percent, plus one) of the property owners who control a majority of the assessed valuation in the district.

Depending on how much street

frontage an owner has, the $8 per linear foot expense will likely be reasonable for most downtown property owners, said Bell, who currently serves as the president of Downtown Jefferson City Inc. She said the total expense is likely to be equivalent, or even less, than the association fees they currently pay for those services.

If the annual CID fee is approved, membership dues would likely decrease, she said.

She also believes the new system would make paying for things like snow removal and beautification efforts — such as the floral hanging baskets — more equitable among the shop owners. Currently some property owners foot the bill for several baskets, while others pay for none.

Keeping fresh flowers alive downtown all summer long is expensive, but it’s also an extra touch that’s appreciated by people who visit the area, Bell and Mehmert noted.

Stegeman, past president of the downtown association, said snow removal is the driving need for the new CID. Not everyone pays dues to the organization, but everyone tends to benefit from sidewalk snow removal.

“It’s not practical to stop and start plowing in front of the stores,” he explained.

Bell, Stegeman and Mehmert talked about how the money could be used, but did not finalize their ideas. Generally speaking, they discussed setting $25,000 aside for beautification and snow removal, $5,000 for cleaning and maintenance, and $6,000 for public safety needs — possibly even installing some security cameras. Bell was interested in reserving about $6,000 for consumer marketing and consumer-oriented research projects.

But they also wanted to possibly carve out funds to cover rising insurance costs as downtown events — such as Thursday Night Live — gather ever-larger crowds.

The next step for the proposal is to continue to gather and polish the necessary documents and put it out for public comment, said Mehmert.

Stegeman is hopeful downtown land owners will look at the concept favorably.

“We can’t maintain everything the downtown association is doing without some more reliable source of funding,” he said.

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