• Montpelier downtown promotion nonprofit to propose new city tax
    By
     | January 08,2013
     

    MONTPELIER — A group of local business leaders says it hopes a new tax could help boost the downtown.

    Montpelier Alive, a nonprofit organization that supports and promotes businesses in the city, wants to create a special taxing district for certain downtown property owners to fund streetscape improvements, like new planters and benches, and advertising campaigns in local and regional media that would include both print and radio ads, some even targeted to the Montreal market.

    “There’s nothing in the city’s coffers, and we understand that,” said Andrew Brewer, owner of Onion River Sports and a member of the Montpelier Alive board of directors. “We want Montpelier to be the next New England town on the rise.”

    The organization wants the city to put the question to Montpelier voters in March. The proposal to create a “Downtown Improvement District” would call for a 4.5 cent tax per $100 of assessed property to commercial property owners, affecting about 220 parcels in the area of the Designated Downtown that currently exists.

    Residential property owners, nonprofits and municipal properties would be exempt. The proposal says landlords, at their discretion, could with absorb the cost or pass it on to commercial and residential tenants.

    Brewer described the tax as businesses and property owners essentially taxing themselves. The Rivendell Books block, for example, could be billed $232 for the year as a result of the proposal; that cost could be divided among the eight businesses there or be absorbed by the property owner.

    Montpelier Alive will present the proposal to the City Council at Wednesday night’s meeting with councilors expected to make a decision on whether to put the measure on the Town Meeting Day ballot. Phayvanh Luekhamhan, executive director of Montpelier Alive, said the group expects to get input on the measure at the meeting.

    Montpelier Alive would control the money, reinvesting the funds back into the district, Luekhamhan said.

    The group hopes to emulate what other communities in the state have down with similar districts, pointing to places like Rutland, Middlebury and Burlington. One of the districts in Burlington is the Church Street Marketplace, and advocates of the plan say the success there has meant properties appreciated in value and the Marketplace has become an attractive destination in and of itself.

    In subsequent years, the organization may seek a city charter change to make permanent the funding stream, rather than putting the question on the ballot every year, according to Montpelier Alive officials.

    If that were to happen, the situation would then be similar to that of a fire district, according to the organization. Luekhamhan said a Montpelier Alive steering committee could oversee that arrangement, in concert with representatives of affected parties like property owners.

    Montpelier Alive is spending $15,000 on advertising this fiscal year. (Their fiscal year begins and ends in the summer.) As a result of that commitment to year-round marketing, the organization was not able to make the popular First Night a priority this year. First Night usually costs around $60,000, Luekhamhan said.

    Montpelier Alive supporters say the proposed ballot question differs from previous attempts by the city, which has sought a 1 percent increase of the state sales tax and on food, lodging and alcohol. A ballot question last year and about a decade ago both failed.

    Officials say the Downtown Improvement District would be discretionary money rather than city-controlled, and it would not have an impact on purchase taxes.

    The taxes raised would amount to $75,000. Montpelier Alive expects $35,000 would be used for streetscape improvements, and $40,000 would be for advertising.

    Advertising could include “Vermont 89,” “Vermont Life,” “Yankee” magazine, Seven Days, Burlington’s BTV airport magazine, “Vermont Weddings,” “Vermont Vows,” WCVT, WDEV, The Point, WVPR, WGDR and Nassau Broadcasting.

    When one area of the downtown was improved, another area would be targeted, keeping the funding the same, Luekhamhan said.

    Part of the money could also be used to create a tourism-style website similar to www.gostowe.com.

    “We’re trying to market Montpelier the way it should be,” Luekhamhan said.

    david.taube@timesargus.com

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