At a Lake George Village Board meeting Monday Oct. 7, area developer and business owner John Carr talks of both the advantages and concerns associated with establishing a Business Improvement District in the village. Both entrepreneurs and individuals that would be included in their district raised various questions about such an entity, its budget, and what it would accomplish.
Various concerns over establishing a Business Improvement District in Lake George were raised by citizens at a public hearing Monday Oct. 7, and their questions prompted the village board to delay a pending proposition to create such an entity by at least 30 days.
Business owners and residents of the district expressed concerns about the funding, budget, powers and parameters of such a district in the village, and whether it would create an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy as well as add substantially to property owners’ tax bills.
At the hearing, village Mayor Robert Blais introduced the BID proposal, which would add 61 cents per thousand onto village tax bills for properties in the district — or about $306 for a property with a market value of $500,000.
He said the BID would provide a new public entity to improve the local streetscape, market the village to the public, promote local special events and spur improvement of store facades.
“Business Improvement Districts have proven to be powerful economic development tools,” he said, citing a published study. He noted that BIDs were very successful in accomplishing various objectives in Albany and Saratoga as well as Glens Falls — where the BID’s levy is only one cent per $1,000 of property value.
Rob Gregor, an attorney who owns Motel Montreal, has been heading up a committee that’s been planning a BID for Lake George and working to establish it.
He said that a Lake George BID would be a “very democratic” entity, as it would empower individuals and businesses in the district to better determine their own destiny.
“We’re all working toward a better village for future generations,” he said.
Others didn’t have such positivism about the concept.
Doug Frost, who both lives and owns commercial property in the proposed district, raised a variety of concerns.
He said that most all of the services and benefits cited in the BID proposal were already being accomplished by the village government — without an additional tax.
“I have a hard time with paying more taxes in a time the economy is tough,” he said. “It’s not just the money, it’s giving up control of the money.”
Jeff Rougeau, owner of the Sundowner Motel, expressed a similar viewpoint.
“If I were asked to pay $200, no problem, we want to improve business in the village,” he said, citing that his BID assessment would be higher than that amount. “But this will add a layer of new taxes.”
Gregor responded that the BID would be prohibited from duplicating existing services.
Frost as well as Mezzaluna Restaurant co-owner Carmella Mastrantoni warned that such services as village beautification, streetscape enhancement, sponsorship of events and fireworks could theoretically be shifted to the BID, boosting the tax levy for the BID property owners.
People asked about whether the BID could be dissolved if it wasn’t accomplishing its objectives. Village Attorney Matt Fuller said it could, if it fulfilled its obligations to repay all debts it had incurred.
Frost responded that he was uneasy about the potential consequences of the BID board of directors incurring debt.
“I have a problem with people borrowing money that I’m obligated to repay,” he said.
Frost questioned why out of a proposed $150,000 budget for the BID’s initial year, $45,000 of it would be spent on administrative costs. Gregor said that it was necessary to spend that much to hire an effective, dynamic executive director. Frost countered that spending about one-third of a BID’s budget for administration was too much.
Gregor replied that Business Improvement Districts generally raise money from corporate sponsorships, fundraising and receipts from events — money that helps pay for the services it provides — and the Lake George BID would seek such an approach to keep the BID levy as low as possible. He added that the BID’s budget was capped at 20 percent of the village’s tax levy.
Business owner and developer John Carr said he supported the concept of a BID if it pursued funding sources to augment the amount raised from the property owners.
Noting that the present village board was very attuned to supporting local commerce, events, and maintaining an attractive streetscape, he said that a BID would protect the local businesses from the loss of such benefits when the existing board members left office.
“Future politicians may not deal with businesses as generously and professionally as you folks have,” Carr said to the village board members. “Our biggest threat is that 10 years from now, we end up having a board that’s not business-friendly.”
Carr, however, urged that a portion of the village parking-meter revenue, which now exceeds $400,000 per year, go to fund the BID. He also said that some of the village’s Occupancy Tax revenue, about $130,000 annually, also go towards the BID’s budget.
Without such funding, the cost to business owners would likely be burdensome, he said.
“I have grave concerns about a 20 percent tax hike,” he continued.
Village Board member John Root said he’d like to see the majority of the BID’s budget be funded by Bed Tax receipts. Blais and Root both said that the business owners had a reputation for not working together, and the BID would force them to do so. Blais added the village has already pledged about $40,000 toward the BID’s budget.
Kim Butterfield, a resident of McGillis Ave., said she didn’t want to pay higher taxes, as she had no commercial operations that would benefit from a BID. Bill Liguori, a neighbor, expressed similar concerns. Gregor responded that individual property owners would indeed benefit, through higher property values stemming from a more prosperous community.
But Mastrantoni said she was opposed to a BID, calling for the layers of local government to be reduced, not expanded.
Sasha Pardy, co-owner of Adirondack Winery and a BID committee member, expressed her support for establishing the proposed entity because it would prompt streetscape improvements, foster new events, and boost local commerce.
“I see so much potential,” she said.
Commercial property owner Patty Kirkpatrick also said she was in favor of such a new commercial district.
“I see a BID as a perfect solution to taxation without representation,” she said. “People in the district would have a voice in how their money is spent.”
Several homeowners, however, continued to raise objections to the additional tax levy, and said they should be excluded from the district — which Fuller said was prohibited by state law. In response, several people suggested that the BID’s bylaws call for granting a rebate to homeowners, and village officials said they’d look into the concept.
After fielding a host of questions, Blais suggested that the BID committee amend its proposal. Gregor advised avid opponents in the crowd to not bank on changes to the plan, but to go forward in collecting signatures on petitions to oppose the proposal. If either 51 percent of the individual property owners vote against a proposed BID, or a number of votes that represent 51 percent of the assessed property value, the proposal is defeated, Blais said.
Mayor Blais concluded the meeting by leaving the public hearing open for a later date, which effectively extends the time period for objecting petitions to be filed and gives the BID committee time to re-draft their proposal.