Commercial property owners in Reading are split on whether or not to keep the Downtown Improvement District, the 20-year-old program that levies a tax to provide a cleaner and safer downtown.
At a public hearing Wednesday night at Reading City Council, half of the property owners who attended were in favor of retaining the district and the other half were not, city clerk Linda Kelleher said this morning.
The Reading Downtown Improvement District was established in 1995 in response to employees’ and business owners’ repeated requests for a cleaner, safer downtown. Through a special assessment, levied on all commercial properties on the downtown district, services are provided to property owners, including outside cleaning, security and marketing.
A preliminary plan unveiled in August by the DID included a proposed assessment rate increase of 12.03 percent. But a reduction in expenses and increased funding from the city led to the DID board’s unanimous decision to eliminate the increase, keeping the assessment at 4.754 mills.
The DID is in a 45-day period for property owners to vote to approve the organization for another five years. There are 551 properties in the district that are eligible to vote.
According to the DID, the services offered by the organization are beyond the capabilities of the municipality, yet critical to the economic growth and success of Reading.
The main complaint from commercial property owners in the district is the renewal-voting process, Kelleher said. For owners to vote, they must file a letter with the city clerk.
Another complaint, she said, is that property owners feel as if they already pay enough taxes and that the city should take care of the services that the DID provides.
If the DID goes away, according to Kelleher, property owners will still feel it financially.
“The city will have to pick up some and the property owners will see it in their property taxes,” she said.
The first contract in 1995 for the DID came with a 3.7-mill assessment rate for commercial property owners in the district and lasted for five years. In 2000, 80 percent of eligible property owners voted in favor of a five-year extension of the contract to 2005.
In 2005, 99 percent of assessed property owners who voted agreed to extend the Downtown Improvement District and to extend the contract for 10 more years.