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Split vote brings more into BID fold
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MONROE - Over the objections of some, additional business owners around the downtown in the newly expanded Business Improvement District will pay extra fees for promoting and improving the Square area.

On Tuesday, the City of Monroe Business Improvement District (BID) boundaries were expanded on a tie-breaking vote by Mayor Ron Marsh at the Common Council meeting.

With Aldermen Thurston Hanson and Neal Hunter absent, the remaining council members split, 4-4, to approve the new boundaries and BID's 2010 operating plan.

The council also split, 4-4, on approving a resolution to allow BID to levy a special assessment to raise $32,000 for 2010. The district's assessments are made only on commercial property. Marsh also broke that tie to pass the resolution.

Council members Paul Hannes, Mark Coplien Jan Lefevre and Kent Kallembach voted against both resolutions. Aldermen Charles Koch, Keith Ingwell, Dan Henke and Charles Schuringa voted in favor of both.

Hanson, representing Ward 7 - the downtown area - said he was unable to attend Tuesday because he is attending classes in Iowa.

The expansion is another example of a "government entity doing a tax grab," Hanson said in a telephone interview Tuesday night.

He sent a written statement urging the council to postpone or not pass the resolution. Mayor Ron Marsh read the statement at Council.

"... While there might be some benefits for a few businesses, it is my opinion that the negatives of this outweigh the positives," Hanson wrote. "This is no time to levy new taxes on a select few businesses, with the end result that they are simply passed onto their customers, where possible, or further eroding a business's bottom line, especially in a time of continued economic turmoil."

Hanson suggested businesses affected by the boundary expansion be allowed to vote whether they are included, "so they could voluntarily be taxed in order to receive benefits of the Main Street program."

Marsh said he voted to pass the resolution, because improvements made in the downtown area will improve property values in areas just off the Square.

The new BID boundaries will extend about one block in all directions and match those of Monroe Main Street, which BID helps support through its tax on commercial property.

The district's portion of Monroe Main Street's budget for 2010 will be $27,500. The city and private contributions make up the remaining two-thirds.

According to BID President Robert Duxstad, BID is reserving the remaining $5,000 in anticipation of extra costs for new streetscape maintenance.

Duxstad told council members that all the reserve money may not be spent, but "we're not building up the kitty," he added.

The district raised about $28,600 last year, with about $25,000 going to Monroe Main Street.

Coplien and Lefevre, as well as business owner Tim Young of American Family Insurance, commented that downtown improvements do not benefit some businesses, especially service-oriented businesses that do not rely on walk-in customers.

Henke said all people in BID would benefit from their property values going up, with the streetscape and new utilities installed downtown this year. The streetscape project is paid through the Tax Increment District (TID) 7 funds.

"The extra money to improve property and then the facade (grant) program, without those half of downtown would be vacant," he said.

Monroe Main Street and now BID boundaries correspond to TID 7. Property owners in a TID pay the same tax rate as other property owners in the city, but tax revenue from their property value increases is used by the city to make improvements to the district, until the end date of the TID. District 7 is scheduled for termination in 2027.