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Main Street revises plan to fund marketing

AFTERNOON TRAFFIC keeps Second Street bustling Jan. 31. The Dalles Main Street is fielding a revised proposal to tax downtown businesses to pay for its executive director and marketing strategy. 	Mark B. Gibson photo

AFTERNOON TRAFFIC keeps Second Street bustling Jan. 31. The Dalles Main Street is fielding a revised proposal to tax downtown businesses to pay for its executive director and marketing strategy. Mark B. Gibson photo Photo by Mark Gibson.

— The Dalles Main Street Steering Committee has revised its proposal to generate funding for marketing purposes by taxing downtown properties.

The new plan levies an annual flat rate assessment of $250 per tax lot, for a total of about $49,000 in revenue. That money will cover the wages of an executive director — the city has also pledged financial support for this position — and staging of promotional activities.

Establishing an Economic Improvement District is necessary to enact the new tax for three years and the proceeds can only be used for the stated purposes. Written objections submitted by the owners of properties comprising 33 percent of the assessed value for the district can stop its enactment.

“I’m for it (holding a public hearing on the issue) because the people who will pay the tax get to approve it,” said Mayor Steve Lawrence.

On Monday, the city council unanimously agreed to schedule a hearing for March 11 to take public comment on the amended funding proposal for the district. The elected body will convene at 5:30 p.m. at city hall, 313 Court Street.

“I remember the last hearing — it was quite contentious,” said Councilor Tim McGlothlin at the Jan. 28 meeting. “It appears that you (Main Street officials and business owners) have found some common ground.”

“I think this responds very well to the concerns we heard earlier,” said Councilor Dan Spatz.

Main Street’s original

proposal for a 5 cent per square foot assessment on downtown properties for a period of five years raised strong objections, especially from the owners of larger lots. They said having the fee imposed on their parking lots as well as building space was going to create a significant financial burden during a tough economic time.

The original district funding plan would have generated about $126,000 per year in resources for Main Street objectives.

The western boundary of the district is proposed to start on Second and Pentland streets and run east to the far edge of the roundabout. The northern border would be First Street and extend south from Fourth to Court, then around the courthouse on Fifth and down to Third Street at Jefferson and back to the roundabout.

The city has budgeted $30,000 to cover some of the salary costs for the director in the current fiscal year if the district is approved. That amount goes down to $20,000 in 2013-14 and then to $10,000 in 2014-15 before phasing out on the assumption that Main Street will have been able to replace the money through grants and fundraising.

The city has also offered to administer the district without charge and provide office space and equipment.

Last October, the city council asked Main Street representatives to take the issue back to the drawing board after the public hearing drew so many dissenters it became clear there was not enough support to form the district.

The steering committee was asked by city officials to reach out to the business community and see what amount, if any, property owners would be willing to pay in return for more marketing.

Chuck Covert, a member of the committee, told the council Monday that budget needs for the district had been revised so less money was needed from property owners. Main Street officials intend to keep the primary emphasis on funding the director position and spend less on promotional activities.

“We’re just trying to improve and revitalize our downtown,” he said. “This is our attempt to move things to the next level and hopefully we’ll be successful.”

Covert said the outreach effort to explain the benefits of the plan had included a presentation at The Dalles Area Chamber Power Breakfast in December.

He said a survey was also mailed out by the steering committee to every property owner of record within the proposed boundaries for the district. In addition, he said electronic copies of the survey were sent to every email address on the chamber’s list.

A total of 159 responses were received from the 197 surveys sent out but only 48 people identified themselves as downtown property owners. Almost 100 percent of the respondents said the historic commercial district could benefit from a coordinated marketing program. However, 89 respondents did not answer when asked how much of an assessment they were comfortable paying, and 32 favored no tax.

Covert said the average amount preferred by respondents for an annual assessment was $146 per lot but some said they would willingly pay as much as $2,000 each year.

If there is enough public support for the district at the March 11 hearing, the council will direct staffers to prepare an ordinance that establishes the boundaries and terms. A notice of the potential assessment will be mailed to property owners and a second and final hearing will take place April 22 if less than 33 percent of affected owners submit a written objection.

If the district is approved, the first tax bill sent to property owners will be due June 17.

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