York City Council to vote on special tax for business district


York City Council members will soon vote to approve or reject the five-year business plan of the York Business Improvement District Authority, deciding whether to authorize the group to continue collecting a tax from some city property owners.

Each year the YBIDA, the publicly funded side of Downtown Inc, collects a 1-mill assessment from each property owner in the Central Business District — that's one one-thousandth of a property's assessed value.

For the owner of a property assessed at $50,000, that's $50 per year to fund the organization.

The assessment allows for "a consistent, dependable income stream" for the organization, executive director Sonia Huntzinger said Monday.

According to Downtown Inc's website, the YBIDA collects about $115,000 in assessments yearly.

The council must approve the YBIDA's plan every five years, and Huntzinger spoke at an Oct. 20 meeting to present the plan for 2016-2020. The city council will vote Tuesday to accept or reject the plan.

The organization: Downtown Inc is a bit of a misnomer. Huntinger said the moniker represents not a corporation but a pairing of two organizations, one a municipal authority and the other a nonprofit. The goal of the joint effort is to make downtown York a safe, prosperous, attractive and favorably viewed place.

The 501(c)(3) nonprofit Main Street York allows the organization to raise funds through partnerships with businesses, grants and donations.

The vast majority of Downtown Inc's revenue comes in through the nonprofit, she told the council.

"In 2010, we collected $80,000 in private donations," Huntzinger said. "Last year, we collected $500,000."

A few of the organization's many goals over the next five years include 100 percent first-floor occupancy in the Business Improvement District and the completion of the Rail Trail by 2017, she said.

Silent public acceptance: Property owners who pay the assessment also had time to weigh in on the business plan, Huntzinger said Monday.

"If our constituents don't oppose it, council says, 'OK, you can continue to levy the assessment,'" she said.

In August, the organization mailed a copy of the plan to each person who pays the assessment. Constituents then had 45 days to submit a formal statement of opposition to the city.

"If one-third of our constituents submit opposition in writing to the city, council can tell us to rewrite (the plan)," Huntzinger said.

This time, as with the last time the plan was submitted, there was no formal opposition.

City Council President Carol Hill-Evans said she hasn't had anyone approach her and ask, "Why do we have to pay this, and what are we getting for it?"

"Because they get so much," she said.

Caroline Morris, who owns Kimman's, a gift shop at 57 N. Beaver St., said the assessment gets passed on to renters.

"I (rent) the most square footage in this building, so I'm probably paying most of the assessment," she said.

But she doesn't mind.

Morris, who donates to Downtown Inc's nonprofit side and in the past sat on the organization's board — "I'm a little biased," she said — thinks the assessment is appropriate and appreciates the services the organization provides for the area.

A healthy police presence and a dedicated BID cleaning crew, as well as beautification initiatives such as the installation of sculptures, really help the area, she said, noting that the organization has leveraged its dollars to make a big impact.

— Reach Julia Scheib at jscheib@yorkdispatch.com.