WATERTOWN — Joseph Wessner vows not to stop working on a proposed business improvement district until he gets 75% of downtown property owners to support it.
During a City Council work session Monday night, Mr. Wessner, president of the Watertown Downtown Business Association, would not say how many property owners have signed a petition to support the district, or BID, in the city.
He needs 51% of the property owners to sign the petition and then for the City Council to approve it.
“Our plan is to get this done,” he told council members, who expressed some concerns about costs to individual property owners and that it would duplicate services.
Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith reiterated his concerns about taxing property owners to establish the district, to be located in Public Square and its surrounding area of downtown. He called it “a fourth tax,” which would be in addition to the city, county and school district taxes.
But Mr. Wessner said it’s not a tax at all, but a special assessment fee property owners would have to pay. He said assessment fees would be tax deductible.
Mayor Smith said he’s concerned that a property owner could lose their property if it’s not paid. But Mr. Wessner said he’s never heard of that happening in the 170 BIDs that are in existence across the state.
Councilwoman Lisa A. Ruggiero questioned whether the assessment fee could be lowered, so property owners wouldn’t face such a financial hardship. She said she talked to a property owner who told her the fee would be $22,000 a year for his properties, and that would impact his profits.
The BID would have an annual budget of $194,000. That works out to $2.62 per $1,000 of the assessed value with a cap of $5,000 per property. The city would handle the assessment fee because it would ensure all property owners would pay it, so there would be enough money for the district, Mr. Wessner said.
“I have difficulty of government getting involved,” the mayor said.
During the 90-minute discussion, Mr. Wessner outlined the virtues of establishing a BID in Watertown. He also outlined how the money would be spent on downtown.
The BID would collaborate on marketing and beautification programs to promote the BID and its businesses, be responsible for cleanup and snow removal, provide security, add more downtown events, work on economic development, coordinate and partner with other downtown groups, as well as make other improvements.
The BID would add to the number of events held downtown during the year, Mr. Wessner said.
He told council members he would not return to talk to them about it until he got 75% support from property owners,