City sets Nov. 6 public hearing to examine Business Improvement Area

Formed in 1988, Auburn’s downtown Business Improvement Area was designed to help kick up economic activity there by providing lighting and security for public spaces and sponsoring public events, among other things.

To make that happen, the City levied a special assessment against businesses inside the BIA, with some exemptions, and formed a committee of rate payers composed of representatives of businesses within the geographic boundary of the BIA to make recommendations to the council for the use of the special assessment funds.

In the last 29 years, however, the ordinance and its exemptions grew more and more out of date, resulting in years of board inactivity. And in that time, sporadic waves of exemptions have done their part to render the BIA moribund.

For the last six months, a group of Auburn business owners has been working to revitalize the BIA.

Recognizing the problems, the City on Monday set a public hearing for 7 p.m., Nov. 6 on an ordinance that creates a chapter within the city code for the BIA that updates and changes the provisions governing it, including modifications to exemptions to the special assessment.

“In a nutshell, what the modification does is eliminates all exemptions, puts all businesses … under the same rate schedule,” Auburn Economic Development Manager Doug Lein told the Council at last week’s study session.

Varying with square footage of retail space, the minimum a business would pay is $150 a year and the maximum is $1,500.

The new ordinance maintains exemptions for city government, however, and for legitimate 501(c)(3) nonprofits with five or fewer full-time employees.

Business owners would pay the fee at the time of year they pick up their business licenses, and could not obtain a business license without doing so.

“If they don’t pay their fee, they don’t get their business license,” Lein said, adding that the non payment would become a matter for City code-enforcement officers. “That’s kind of the heavy-handed side of it, but that’s the way the law is written.”

The only other cleanup affects fees paid by non-owner-occupied commercial rental space when the space itself is the owner’s business.

For instance, Lein said, if Jones owns a building and has two tenants in there, he would pay on his square footage, and the two tenants would pay their share. But if Jones decides to move out and leases the third space in his building, the leasing of that commercial real estate becomes his new business, and he would pay a minimum of about $150.

Lein said the assessment in total should collect close to $80,000 a year.

By changing exemptions to the BIA special assessment, City leaders hope to address itinerant businesses, home occupations, large scale nonprofit organizations and nested businesses and make the rate of the special assessment uniform.

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