Downtown property owners will pay higher taxes to cover additional security and cleaning — and, potentially, to track the locations of cleaning crews hired to sweep sidewalks.
Wednesday’s 5-0 Bend City Council vote to impose a 25-cents-per-square foot tax on downtown property owners was one of several measures councilors discussed to address safety concerns in and around downtown Bend. Councilors Bill Moseley and Barb Campbell, who own businesses downtown, recused themselves because they indirectly pay the taxes through their leases.
City staff predict replacing a soon-to-expire 18-cents-per-square-foot tax with the new 25-cents-per-square-foot assessment will bring in more than $225,000 a year. The city keeps some of that, but the Downtown Bend Business Association would receive about $214,000 annually for marketing, security guards, cleaning, holiday decorations and spearheading a program that encourages people to donate to organizations that help the homeless, rather than giving money directly to panhandlers.
After hearing from downtown business and property owners who said they didn’t benefit from the assessment, Mindy Aisling, executive director of the association, said she looked into how to provide services equitably throughout all of downtown. One possible solution, which association board members will vote on in May, is using GPS-tracking apps to make sure its employees clean sidewalks and streets on the outskirts of the area.
“Our crews are on the street really early in the morning, and sometimes even business owners don’t know they’re out there,” Aisling said.
If the owners of about 300,000 square feet — 33 percent of the total area — objected, councilors could not approve the new tax and the existing tax would expire in May. But because only a few property owners who hold a combined 32,471 square feet objected, the council could approve the tax.
Along with the downtown-specific taxes, councilors heard about city-led initiatives to address safety concerns downtown. Business owners and residents shared extensive concerns last summer about a growing population of sometimes-aggressive transient residents whom they saw blocking sidewalks, harassing customers and using or selling drugs, and the city’s trying to address those concerns before summer tourism ramps up.
Bend Police officers assigned to schools during the school year will patrol downtown on foot all summer, Chief Jim Porter said.
Because the department was able to hire additional officers, the police department can have a more substantial presence downtown, he said.
Bend Police and the Downtown Bend Business Association have been talking to downtown bar owners about coordinating to make sure that people ejected or denied service at one bar can’t go to another. Porter expects to add surveillance cameras in some parts of town during the next couple of months as well.
“We’ve got the hot spots in the downtown area,” he said. “We’re going to put cameras there.”
The city and private property owners added more lights to the downtown parking garage and the breezeway, took out stairwell doors in the parking garage and removed a garbage enclosure in the south Mirror Pond parking lot. Most changes now address a perceived lack of safety, Bend Economic Development Director Carolyn Eagan said, and the city’s still trying to get data on actual problems.
“There’s a big difference in Bend between perceived safety and actual data showing us we’re having a problem in the parking garage,” Eagan said.
The city also plans to limit parking to four hours on Riverside Boulevard between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day, with $50 fines. If it’s successful, parking time limits could become year-round and apply in other areas, including near the whitewater park.
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