Officials have agreed to rescind their original proposal to expand the Erin Village BIA, but that did not stop local businesses from expressing their frustration with the plan.
About 60 people gathered for a public meeting on Sept. 8 at Centre 2000 to discuss the expansion proposal.
The plan would have expanded the Business Improvement Area from about 40 to 89 members, including commercial and industrial businesses, and replaced the current $400 flat levy with assessment-based charges ranging from $100 to $2,800.
The idea was to overcome perennial funding shortfalls by expanding the BIA budget from $16,000 to $50,000.
But BIA vice-chairman Jo Fillery opened the meeting by acknowledging such a budget is “aggressive” and the overall plan “isn’t fair” considering some businesses in the “transition” zone could pay twice what a business on Main Street would.
“I know I made a mistake,” Fillery said, though she said she still thinks expanding the BIA core is the right thing to do. She wants to form an ad hoc committee to discuss the issue, with an Oct. 6 deadline to submit a new proposal to the town.
But regardless of the size of the increase, many in attendance were upset they may be forced to pay a levy at all, when they expect little or no return on their investment.
“I can’t see the downtown from my business,” said Dan Manes, owner of Erin Refrigeration. He said his business always supports events in town and the BIA does a great job, but the expansion proposal “wasn’t handled the way it should have been.”
Jeff Broughton, vice president of Kennedy’s Flags, said taxes are already outrageous at the north end of Erin and adding another makes no sense. He said walk-in customers are a rarity for Kennedy’s Flags, which ships most of its products, so he does not see how being a member of an expanded BIA would help the business.
BIA chairman Shelley Foord replied BIA improvements benefit the entire town by beautifying the community, improving tourism, and increasing property values, among other ways.
“I don’t want my assessment to increase,” Broughton replied to much support, alluding to the higher taxes that usually accompany increased assessment.
Dana Mundell, who owns several buildings throughout town, said while he is not totally in favour of the BIA plan, he believes there is a way to accomplish its goals. He added the BIA has made the whole town a better place to live over the last 20 years.
A few others in attendance echoed Mundell’s sentiments, but not Wally Brennan, who said he has lived in Erin “as long as anyone.”
He feels the BIA “hasn’t done a damn thing” for his hauling company, and that likely won’t change in the future.
Deanna MacKay, a member of the town’s economic development committee, said a new levy on businesses may discourage new companies from coming to Erin. She added proposed members should be able to see “what they would be getting for the money,” and asked about the inclusion of the medical field in the BIA expansion.
“With the problems we face acquiring doctors and medical staff in all fields, why have these people been included in the expansion area of the BIA?” MacKay asked.
Fillery said medical buildings would be exempt in any future plans. She told MacKay the original proposal was brought to the economic development committee at least twice, refuting MacKay’s claims to the contrary.
Fillery also expressed disappointment with a petition MacKay presented to the BIA, saying it was likely not based on facts.
Foord also acknowledged changes need to be made to the BIA proposal, but she said a lot of people are jumping to conclusions and assumptions about the expansion.
“It was never our intent to force this on people … or generate the hostility we’ve received … or try to sneak something through,” she said.
Fillery added it is a shame the BIA has received negative feedback second-hand because the proposal could have been changed long before everyone got so upset.
There has to be a reason no one contacted the BIA, replied several individuals, including one man who told Fillery he did not trust the group.
Several people also questioned Fillery’s new plan deadline of Oct. 6, saying the changes should not be rushed through.
Fillery replied the idea is to create something everyone can live with, and while the Oct. 6 date would ensure the changes are effective by Jan. 1, she is willing to wait another year if necessary.
However, she said a lot of “leg work” on the matter is already completed and coming up with a new formula should not take too long.
Fillery told the Advertiser on Sept. 11 she currently has four members, plus herself, that have volunteered to sit on the ad hoc committee. Because she wants “fair representation” from the existing BIA core, the expanded core and the transitional area, she is still looking for about three more members.
Anyone interested in joining the committee can contact Fillery at 519-833-0909.