The Business Improvement Area outlined in black ink is the area that will be affected by the levy increase that Downtown Salmon Arm requested from the city. (City of Salmon Arm image)

Council balks but approves deal for Downtown Salmon Arm

Small minority of downtown businesses objects to seven-year bylaw with levy increases

The future of Downtown Salmon Arm looked uncertain at times during the last meeting of Salmon Arm council but, in the end, its funding was approved for seven more years.

An unusually long discussion at council’s Nov. 25 meeting centered on a new seven-year agreement and expanded boundary proposed for the downtown Business Improvement Area (BIA), which Downtown Salmon Arm (DSA) administers.

The existing BIA bylaw, which has a 10-year term, is set to expire on Dec. 31. In Salmon Arm, downtown business promotion activities are financed through a special tax levy on all Class 6 (business and other) properties within the BIA boundary. The city collects this tax revenue on behalf of the DSA. In exchange, the DSA board produces an annual budget for council to review.

The levy proposed was for a 2.73 increase in 2020 followed by a four per cent increase each year for the final six years of the bylaw. Those percentages are per $1,000 of assessed value.

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The expanded boundary was to add just one property, the former Honda building owned by Bill Laird.

In August, DSA representatives had come to council to propose the new seven-year bylaw. Regarding the boundary change, Laird told council he believes in what the DSA does and wanted to contribute to the levy.

Council authorized staff to carry out what’s called a Council Initiative process, which is somewhat similar to the better known Alternative Approval Process. To stop the bylaw from being adopted, 50 per cent of the parcels in the specified area downtown would have to sign a petition objecting.

By the Nov. 15 deadline, just 13 properties, most from the south side of the highway, representing only 7.5 per cent of parcels, had objected. That meant council could adopt the bylaw. Three additional options were provided by city staff at the Nov. 25 meeting, two of which involved rejecting the proposal and starting over with “rigorous engagement” with the businesses involved, and one was to let the BIA bylaw lapse.

Councillors raised a number of concerns about passing the bylaw.

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Coun. Debbie Cannon spoke most strongly in opposition, saying the 26 per cent increase over seven years is too much when businesses already pay a high tax rate. She said the majority of businesses on the south side of the highway don’t support it, and she also brought up a perceived lack of communication between the DSA and downtown businesses. She said she didn’t see the proposed bylaw announced on the DSA website and “that set off alarm bells a little bit.” However, Cannon added she wasn’t in favour of dissolving the DSA.

It was unclear to city staff what would happen to Downtown Salmon Arm if council rejected the bylaw, but DSA manager Lindsay Wong said later that the organization’s contract is with the city and if that contract was not renewed, she believes there would have been no DSA come Jan. 1.

She also said there were two open houses at the Innovation Centre about the bylaw, it was on the agenda for DSA’s AGM, it went out with the city information in October and it was in the newsletter that was both emailed and handed out.

“We confidently feel we had the information out there,” Wong said.

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Regarding the levy increases, she said capital expenses are a large part such as Christmas decorations and banners, plus installation of the banners. She said livability is a top focus. That includes safety for pedestrians, walkability, safe access downtown, signage, beautification, living with the environment. Promotions and projects are also funded.

Coun. Tim Lavery also voted against the bylaw, saying it’s not a reflection of the DSA’s worth but about fairness regarding those businesses which didn’t want to be included in the specified area.

Councillors suggested deferring the vote or altering the length and tax levy amounts in the bylaw but staff informed them that would mean starting over. Coun. Kevin Flynn, the city’s rep on the DSA board, said he thinks council may have made mistakes regarding the agreement and perhaps the DSA could have done a better job of informing people.

The final vote was five to two, with Cannon and Lavery voting against.

Mayor Alan Harrison said it was clear in August what the DSA was proposing and the majority of businesses have demonstrated their position by not objecting.

Coun. Louise Wallace Richmond characterized online shopping as the elephant in the room. She said it can’t be ignored because Amazon is Salmon Arm’s largest retailer.


@SalmonArm
marthawickett@saobserver.net

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