Downtown Bend business owners who’ve complained about aggressive panhandlers could soon have increased security and high-pressure sidewalk cleaning paid for by higher taxes on downtown properties.
The Bend City Council voted 5-0 Wednesday to extend the operating period of the downtown Bend economic improvement district, the first step to increasing taxes on the more than 900,000 square feet of commercial space downtown. Councilors Bill Moseley and Barb Campbell, who both own downtown businesses, recused themselves because they indirectly pay the taxes through their leases.
Downtown has had an economic improvement district since 2006, and it was set to expire in May. Wednesday’s vote will extend it to 2021 and adds another 3,000-square-foot property to the district.
Councilors will vote in April on whether to increase the tax from 18 cents to 25 cents per square foot, which city staff predict will bring in more than $225,000 a year. The city would keep some of that money, but the Downtown Bend Business Association would receive about $214,000 annually to use 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.
The tax increase is one of several steps the city’s taken to address concerns downtown residents and business owners shared last summer about a growing population of sometimes-aggressive transient residents whom they saw blocking sidewalks, harassing customers and using or selling drugs.
Councilors previously approved a law requiring that people sitting or lying leave a 6-foot-wide clear sidewalk and voted to redesign the south Mirror Pond parking lot.
It’s more difficult to handle security issues in parcelized areas like downtown than it is on large properties that only have one owner, Councilor Justin Livingston said.
“This gives the downtown businesses the ability to come together and address some of their security concerns,” Livingston said.
Suzy Reininger, who owns Leapin’ Lizards Toy Co., said the Downtown Bend Business Association does good work, and she’s happy to contribute to the increased tax.
“When I’ve had somebody throw up in the alley behind my store, which has happened, or when I have somebody shooting up heroin, which has happened, I can go to the (Downtown Bend Business Association),” she said.
But some downtown business owners said they don’t see benefits from the taxes they already pay.
Susan Chipman, who spoke on behalf of the Re/Max building on Franklin Avenue, said the Downtown Bend Business Association doesn’t do work near her building.
“We have no Christmas lights,” she said. “We have no flowers. We get the vagrants that are chased out of the other parts of the district.”
Chipman and other property owners can block the tax increase by weighing in during an April 18 hearing. The economic improvement district and associated taxes won’t take effect if the owners representing at least 33 percent of the property — about 300,000 square feet — oppose it.
Mindy Aisling, executive director of the Downtown Bend Business Association, urged councilors to approve the district and tax increase. The economic improvement district gives the downtown area the ability to serve the entire city, she said.
“A thriving downtown is a key component to a healthy city,” she said.
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