DBIA seek another mandate
Council will utilize a method somewhat like the Alternate Approval Process to renew the Downtown Business Improvement Association’s (DBIA) area bylaw, which is in effect until March 31.
A business improvement association can be established in one of two ways. Either area businesses, the ones who will pay the levy, must sign a petition asking for one, or an interested group will appear before council and ask them to lead the process, which means using the ‘council lead initiative subject to petitions against’.
At that point council, if it chooses, can proceed with the request, which means staff will send letters to affected business owners. They then have the right to respond within a certain period of time saying they don’t want the association nor the tax. If there is not sufficient petitions against, meaning at least 50 per cent of the propertys and at least 50 per cent of the value of the property, it is assumed they are fine with the idea and the financial ramifications, and council proceeds.
The DBIA is funded through a local services tax levied on properties that lie within the local area service boundary, which is defined within the bylaw they are asking council to renew. They are also asking for the ability to plan over a five rather than three-year period.
“We want to continue on doing what we are doing,” Rod Holmes, DBIA president, said.
The DBIA has accomplished a number of tasks over the last years from partnering with the city to beautify the downtown with flower baskets, a project that will be funded by both entities again this year, to working on crime reduction and promoting downtown events.
Holmes mentioned their facade grant program has been very well received, with three grants given out thus far including one to help create the striking Canada Winter Games facade.
Besides the many initiatives taken on by the DBIA, Holmes said the organization has reached out to several community partners and is eager to work with organizations like the chamber or Initiatives Prince George on projects.
Though council congratulated the DBIA because of the improvements made in the downtown thanks to the association, there was some concern over the way the bylaw is to be changed, in that it utilizes a process like the Alternate Approval Process (AAP).
The AAP came under fire after a council plan to upgrade the River Road dike brought 9,271 residents out, signing more than enough petitions to stop the project.
Though far cheaper than a referendum, the AAP has been criticized as a ‘negative’ rather than positive voting process, and an unfair one because it generally requires a high percentage of votes to stop the project in question.
Coun. Frank Everitt said he would rather council made a decision regarding the bylaw and lived with it.
“A reverse petition is difficult,” he said, adding it would leave council open to a similar situation as what happened the last time the AAP was used.
However, it was pointed out, voter turnout is also often an issue with questions of governance. If property owners downtown disagree with the bylaw, the process does give them a chance to say as much.
Walter Babicz, the city’s manager of legislative services, explained how the process will work in this case.
Once council gives the go-ahead a notice will go in the newspaper for two consecutive weeks explaining what is happening. Letters will also be sent to affected property owners with the tax information included. Following that another notice will go in the paper. Thirty days after that, unless enough of the involved property owners vote against the bylaw, the results will go to council and the next steps will be enacted.
Everitt asked if council could ratify the bylaw by utilizing another method obtaining approval. However, he was informed choosing a process was not the question before council.
Council approved the request with Everitt opposed.