Monday, December 17, 2007

Media: Business owners pay price for promotion

From Daily Republic (Subscription required)
By Carol Bogart Daily Republic

SUISUN CITY - Merchants in the Historic-Waterfront Business Improvement District discovered a little catch when they went to renew their business licenses for 2007.

They first had to pay their district fee, which is assessed annually to help the city pay for waterfront promotion, said Scott Corey, Suisun City's business liaison. The city decided to tie the BID fee to the business license renewal after less than half of the district business owners paid the fee for 2006.

A public hearing Tuesday at City Hall will determine whether the businesses 'reauthorize' the city to collect the fee. Corey said those businesses have until the hearing, which will be held during the City Council meeting, to file written protests.

The majority of the businesses in the district bounded roughly by the train station, Morgan Street, Kellogg Street and Civic Center Boulevard formed the Business Improvement District in 2003 to partner with the city to promote the waterfront.

Lynne Golden, who owns Golden Lotus Healing Arts Center on Main Street, is a member of the BID board.

'It was kind of rough,' Golden said, when the city tied the fee in her case, $300 to her business license renewal.

"December's kind of a rough month,' Golden said of the added expense. 'You don't have a choice. You just have to plan for it.'

Businesses facing the water on Main Street pay higher fees, in some cases as much as $400, Corey explained. Other businesses pay as little as $100.

'This is not a huge amount of money we're talking about here,' Corey said.

The city matches dollar for dollar.

Last year, the 88 BID members paid a total of $17,500 to help promote the waterfront.

Golden likes the concept.

'You're aware of proposed changes and progression of the growing of the city,' she explained. 'It just feels good to participate and be part of that growth.'

The business-initiated program a 'positive way' for businesses to partner with the city, City Manager Suzanne Bragdon said. More than 50 percent of the businesses in the district had to want the BID for that public-private partnership to materialize, Corey said.

The fees schedule was determined by the businesses, based on how much an individual business would benefit from the promotion of the waterfront. The City Council then adopted the fee schedule into city ordinance.

By state law and city ordinance, the fees can't be raised unless more than half the member businesses agree. Each year, a 'reauthorization' public hearing takes place to reaffirm that the city can impose the fee.

Last year, Corey said some business owners who objected to tying the fee to their business licenses and others filed a required written protest in a failed attempt to force the BID to disband. To succeed, such a protest must be signed by business owners whose combined fees represent more than 50 percent of the total annual assessment.

Some businesses submitted four or five signatures, Corey said, but only the recorded owner on the business license is a valid signature. When tallied, valid signatures fell 'far short' of the number needed to disband the BID, Corey said.

Some member business owners want the BID to disband because they disagree with any fee assessment, Corey said. Others complain the BID is ineffective. Corey pointed out that when the BID board meets monthly, often the only people in attendance are the board members.

Business owners who are dissatisfied should become board members at the next election, which will be held no later than February 2008, Corey said.

As the BID budget is structured, half the funding comes from the city's Redevelopment Agency and half comes from member fees.

Bragdon pointed to events such as the Waterfront Festival in October as the type of event the BID helps the city sponsor to promote the waterfront's appeal. BID also had a presence at the recent Old Town Suisun Christmas celebration.

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Reach Carol Bogart at 427-6955 or at

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