To address concerns raised by property owners during a recent public hearing, the Downtown Improvement District board revised its five-year special assessment proposal by reducing the number of properties included in the west side expansion boundaries and limiting assessment and contributions to $879,000 for services.
The revised report was presented to city of Grand Rapids officials during the Oct. 27 Committee of the Whole meeting to consider supporting the assessment to finance the enhanced services. Representatives from the DID board also were present to address issues discussed at the Oct. 13 public hearing.
Scott Engerson, city assessor, said two of the concerns raised by property owners in the near west side expansion were about equity as it relates to the amount of the proposed special assessment on manufacturing businesses and the cost of the proposed services.
“I think we can all be assured that the DID board seeks the highest level of services at the lowest cost possible,” said Engerson. “They have been doing this special assessment for services since 2001, and we believe those are being provided at the lowest cost possible,” said Engerson. “The DID renewal steering committee members began meeting on this in the spring of 2014 and there were three west side members.”
Engerson said one concern raised by property owners was the timing of the notification for enhanced service costs and “their ability to develop a business strategy for passing on those costs of special assessment.”
First Ward Commissioner Walt Gutowski suggested what “really broke things down” was there was not enough communication about the program.
Kris Larson, executive director of the DID board, was present to address additional concerns regarding a potential impact on the level of services provided. In response to the potential dilution of services based on the expanded boundaries, Larson said the DID is “most proud” about a number of cost savings that have been reallocated into services.
“With the shift in management from the Downtown Alliance to Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., we have been able to reduce overhead by 28 percent,” said Larson. “We are putting a lot less in the back-of-house costs associated with managing the program and returning those savings in the form of services.”
Larson also cited expense shifts such as holiday décor to the Downtown Development Authority, decreased rent by co-locating resources, and increasing the “amount and type of services in the downtown at large” by combining the Ambassador and Clean Team programs.
Due to some of the comments at the public hearing, certain properties were removed from the proposed 2015 Special Assessment District, according to the Oct. 27 resolution to the city. The expanded boundaries had included properties around Founders Brewery, The Rapid, Downtown Market and a portion of the near west side.
The assessment and contribution amount for FY2016 area-wide services was reduced from about $900,000 to about $879,000.
Nearly 70 percent of properties in the 2015 Special Assessment District are considered private taxable entities, 14 percent are public tax-exempt, 13 percent are private-tax, and 3 percent are multi-family residential.
Some of the enhanced services provided for all properties include litter pick-up, sidewalk sweeping and washing, seasonal decorations, expanded Downtown Ambassador service delivery, marketing and promotions, and program evaluation services.
“We have put a lot of energy and time into the whole process of expansion, making sure we had people from the expansion district involved in the process of bringing that in, and then looking at expanding our services,” said Bob Herr, board chair of the DID.
“In fact, we think we are doing more,” continued Herr. “One of our assessment payers said our budget only went up $40,000, but there were a lot of savings in other categories such as administrative costs that have brought those expenditures down. They have been re-spent in cleaning, maintenance and beautification.”
The Special Assessment Roll will be open for public inspection in the City Assessor’s Office from Nov. 30 through Dec. 11 and will be considered for adoption by the City Commission in January 2016.