ARTHUR – Over 40 residents attended a BIA information meeting in the Arthur and Area Community Centre on Jan. 29.
Mayor Andy Lennox was pleased to see the turnout.
“As many of you are aware, discussion about the creation of a BIA (Business Improvement Area) in Arthur has been going on for a little while,” Lennox said, noting, “in December, council approved moving forward with a BIA – at least implementing it in principal.”
Lennox said there are additional steps to fully implement the new BIA, such as appointment of board members.
“The reason council wanted to move ahead with the BIA is that we’ve seen the very positive things which were happening as a result of the downtown revitalization efforts.
“With that in mind, and hearing some of the objections we had during the process late last year, we thought it appropriate to hold off on parts of this process to provide more information and encourage input and involvement of the business community.”
The mayor added, “We want to get the best value out of this idea, this proposal, and to make this the best we possibly can for the community.”
Economic development officer Dale Small added letters were sent to all property and business owners within the BIA area. He explained the revised BIA district goes from Clark Street, south along George and Smith Streets (Highway 6) to the intersection of Highway 6 and Wellington Road 109.
Small said the area includes 55 commercial properties and a similar number of businesses.
In August, council was provided a report on work done by the Mount Forest and Arthur Downtown Revitalization Committees, Small said. Those committees were created to find a way to use the $48,000 provided by the province for main street revitalization.
Small said during those discussions it became clear that to remain sustainable and keep the momentum, a BIA needed to be created.
He also thanked those who took part in the Arthur downtown revitalization team.
Small said the BIA model allows local business people and commercial property owners to join together and, with the support of the municipality, carry out projects to improve economic development in the district.
“While we as municipalities have great flexibility and respect the BIAs, the Municipal Act has clear terms outling the process to set up a BIA.” said Small.
He noted that last year a number of objections were filed as businesses expressed concern over the establishment of a BIA.
“I can assure you the process we used in Wellington North was the process outlined within the Municipal Act in terms of notice and holding a public information session.”
Small said BIAs are operated by a board of management appointed by council.
“If you are interested in sitting on the board, please let us know. We’re looking for a combination of property and business owners located within the BIA boundary.”
Small said potentially there would also be one or two members of Wellington North council – “We are setting this up to include a minimum of five to a maximum of nine board members.”
He explained once the board is established, the municipality is able to charge a BIA tax levy to all commercial property owners within boundary of the BIA.
“All fees collected go back to the BIA to be used for improvements,” he said.
Small explained one of the key items is the BIA board of management prepares an annual budget and work plan.
He stressed it is the board that sets the budget which is then submitted to council for final approval.
Having the final say, Small clarified that if council believed the business levy is too high, it could decline approval of a budget submission.
He said based on the current size of the BIA district size (55 properties) and a potential budget of $10,000, the levy would be $182 per property.
The current set up would see the levy charged per property, regardless of size.
Moving forward, Small said the BIA board could ask for that to changed to, for example, having a levy based on the size of a commercial building.
He also clarified the tax levy is billed to the property owner.
“The Municipal Act does allow the property owner to transfer or pass on the levy to the business owner,” said Small.
He stressed it is up to an individual BIA what projects or issues the members wish to focus on.
He said BIAs can:
– create enhancements to offer a more pleasant atmosphere for local business;
– help provide maintenance of local infrastructure;
– support business owners taking on special events; and
– be involved in business recruitment or assisting in promotional efforts to fill vacant commercial space.
“When you have a BIA there is a variety of provincial funding programs available [for] BIAs – in partnership with municipalities or communities.”
He noted a recent $10,000 grant to support small businesses through Digital Main Street Funds assists businesses seeking support for their online capabilities – from establishing social media to creating websites.
Small stated Wellington North council has approved the bylaws to establish the BIA, although a budget will not be set until after a board is appointed.
The first question raised by Wayne Baker concerned the ratio of businesses versus the number of objectors.
Small said 21 objections were filed out of 110 (the estimated combined number of property and business owners).
He said some of the initial objections were based on the size of the BIA boundary, which was originally proposed to be the entire length of Arthur’s main street – from Wellington Road 109 to Wells Street.
Council agreed to move the boundary south to Clarke Street, Small said.
Business owner Mitch Keirstead said an important aspect should be deciding on the definition of a quorum for when voting takes place at BIA annual meetings.
“It is really important that number not be impossibly large,” but not just the board members, in deciding the budget, he said.
Small said that could be taken back for consideration.
He noted financial incentive programs offered by the municipality to improve local businesses will continue. Those incentives are part of the township’s economic development department, he explained.
Small stressed improvements to the downtowns will be a combined effort of the BIA, the local chamber of commerce and the municipality.
Concerns were raised that the initial letters regarding the BIA were sent only to the property owners – which meant the information did not always reach business owners.
One business owner asked, “Is this absolutely happening or is there another option to vote again?”
Small responded “the BIA is absolutely, positively happening.”
He stated the confusion could result from a flaw in the Municipal Act process, as the onus is placed upon the property owner to forward information to the tenants.
Small added that is why for the information meeting, letters were sent to both property and business owners.
“We tried our best to inform everyone,” he said.
As to upcoming appointments to the board, Small asked interested parties to contact him or the township.
Residents stated they were not opposed to making Arthur a better community, but were concerned about potential costs of a BIA levy.
Keirstead agreed, stating budget approvals at an annual meeting should require more than the board of management and represent more of the overall membership.
Small said, “We are all in this together and want to make it a greater town than it already is.”