Every five years, members of the Downtown Business Improvement District vote on whether the group - financed with an extra tax - will continue existing. This month, the 10-year-old BID will hold its second reelection vote, amid grumbling from some that it should be dissolved.
Andrew Muzi, owner of Yellow Jersey bicycle shop, 419 State St., compares the BID to a mafia protection racket. "It's like if I called you up every Friday and said give me $50 bucks and I won't break your leg," he says. "What do I get out of it? We pay the highest taxes in the world. Then I pay again for the street maintenance and garbage. Then I pay again for the BID."
Since he's a tenant, not a property owner, Muzi doesn't get to vote in the election. But he helps pay the tax through his rent and has sent letters to BID members urging a no vote. (The ballots were mailed Wednesday and must be returned by July 31.)
The Downtown BID, which includes the State Street business corridor and the area around Capitol Square, imposes a special tax on commercial and mixed-use properties (residential property is exempt).
Mary Carbine, BID executive director, says the median tax is about $800 a year; a couple of property owners pay more than $20,000. The tax is based on how much commercial frontage a property has, which some say is unfair.
Harold Langhammer, who owns several properties in the district, wrote the BID: "This taxing method means, for example, that a two-story building is assessed at the same rate as a 10-story building with the same lineal footage." Langhammer, who now pays roughly $5,600 a year, wants the tax based on a property's assessed value.
Carbine says the roughly $250,000 a year generated by the tax has been used to pay for potted plants, Christmas lights, the free downtown area map, marketing promotions, representation at trade shows, business advocacy and staff for the visitor information booths.
Ald. Mike Verveer, whose district includes part of the BID, says it "would be a tremendous tragedy if the BID was not renewed. It's become an indispensable advocate for downtown."