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BIA levy rejected

The Sechelt Downtown Business Association (SDBA) future is unclear after Sechelt council denied their request for a new business improvement area (BIA) levy that would have funded the group's efforts this year.

The Sechelt Downtown Business Association (SDBA) future is unclear after Sechelt council denied their request for a new business improvement area (BIA) levy that would have funded the group's efforts this year.

"I am just totally in shock," said SDBA president Coral O'Reilly after the May 9 special council meeting.

The SDBA had requested an expanded BIA area and increased levy to fund their efforts this year that include marketing Sechelt to tourists, beautifying the area and organizing Canada Day, Halloween and Christmas festivities in the District of Sechelt. They were also planning to organize a street market every Thursday evening this summer and prepare a new tourist map to be handed out on the ferries, but those projects are now on hold while the SDBA decides whether to fold.The proposed expanded BIA area extended the downtown business core all the way along Wharf Road to the motel and Lighthouse Pub. It also included Mermaid, Dolphin and Medusa streets businesses, but excluded residential buildings. The increase meant a total of 25 new businesses (105 all together) within the expanded BIA, which brought with it a two-tiered levy system for property owners.

The former yearly levy was set at $499. The new fee would have been $600 per year for those properties zoned commercial and $200 per year for those zoned commercial/recreational. In addition, any property owner owning more than one parcel on which only one business is operated would be charged one annual fee.

The change was subject to petition against it and the SDBA was charged with notifying all the businesses owners in the expanded BIA area of the proposal. The District also sent out letters to property owners advising them of the change and requesting those against the proposal file petitions against it.

In order for the proposal to be defeated by those who would be subject to the levy, the petitions had to have been signed by the owners of at least 50 per cent of the parcels.

In the end the District received only 34 petitions against the service (32 per cent of the total property owners) that were acceptable. There were actually 60 petitions returned but some were not signed by property owners, because many property owners don't live on the Coast.

The levy could not be defeated by a 32 per cent petition-against vote, but councillors seemed concerned with the amount of negativity toward the levy.

A handful of property owners within the expanded BIA came to the meeting to voice concerns over not being properly notified and the inclusion of their "commercial/industrial" properties that have never been part of the BIA. Sechelt Mayor Cam Reid said other property owners sent letters to the District opposing the increase but did not sign the petition.

"The last thing I want to do is vote for something that obviously has some strong opposition. It would not get off to a good start and not serve anyone well," Coun. Warren Allan said.

Reid suggested the opposition, though not enough to legally defeat the levy, should be taken seriously.

"If we choose not to pass it today, it would die, and there would be no taxation for this service," said Reid. "If there was support for a modified proposal, I'm sure our council would be willing to fund it for this year and not collect this year, but next year. We recognize the need but are certainly concerned with the opposition heard."

Coun. Barry Poole said he was in favour of approving the levy but noted it was a tough issue for council.

"This is a very, very difficult issue," Poole said. "I've been associated with the SDBA for two terms, and in my opinion they do an excellent job and they are a very worthwhile organization. However, I understand the concerns of the people here, the boundary and types of businesses. I'm not too sure what the answer is. If it came down to me being in favour or not I would be one to probably say I was in favour of it only because I know they do good work and I'd like to see it go on. If there was another option to keep the SDBA viable while a new referendum was prepared and set up, I would be prepared to support that."

In the end only Poole voted in favour of granting the levy, and it was defeated.

That means there will be no taxation to fund the SDBA this year as all District of Sechelt taxation bylaws must be prepared and approved this week.

Reid noted the District would help the SDBA stay afloat this year if they came up with a new proposal with different BIA boundaries that found "firm support from businesses."

"We could not continue funding after this bylaw expires unless we have some certainty the community will in fact support a new bylaw," Reid said. "There may be a period without funding. I would suspect if a modified proposal were to go out and it was supported by this community, we could find ways to fund it this fiscal year."

It would take at least six weeks to prepare a new proposal and canvass business owners, allowing enough time for legal notices and due process.

Reid hopes the SDBA will prepare a new proposal, but O'Reilly seemed defeated after Tuesday's no vote. "I don't know what we're going to do. We're going to have to have a meeting," she said.