What's wrong with the BID?
The biggest problem with the proposed Business Improvement District (BID) is that an unelected board would collect tax money and spend it as they wish.
If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is.
It’s modeled on the much-criticised Convention and Visitors Bureau, which collects the hotel room tax and spends it on peeling signs and direct payments to zipline companies and nightclubs.
Like the Convention and Vistors Bureau, the new BID would replace the government function of spending tax money, in this case an additional property tax of seven cents per hundred downtown.
Organizers of the BID told business owners that the new tax would pay only one-third of the BID budget. One third would come from the City and County, and one third from grants. At one early meeting, when a property owner objected to a tax increase, another advised him to shut up, saying: "You're paying a nickel and getting fifteen cents."
That was then. Now that the BID is coming before Council, there’s no more talk of “Pay a nickel, get fifteen cents.” Now it’s, “We just want to tax ourselves.”
During the first BID organizing meetings, advocates said money would mainly be used to advertise downtown and to fund more street festivals. That pitch was successful with many downtown merchants.
But downtown residents would also have to pay the new tax (and many of them are not eager for more beer festivals). When they raised objections, organizers for the BID started saying that most of the money is going to the “Clean and Safe” program.
One of the most unusual aspects of the proposal has flown under the radar and received almost no attention.
That's the contract between the new BID and the City specifying that current city services downtown cannot be reduced.
In the words of the BID folks, "It does not matter who's on Council or who wins elections, services to downtown will stay the same." In the BID world, elections are irrelevant.
So in some future recession, services might be reduced to other parts of the city, but not to downtown.
If you live in Kenilworth or West Asheville, your services might be reduced, but not downtown where the merchants would have a contract with the city.
If the proposal passes, some future City Council might well have to cut services to schools or in the neighborhoods, but would be contractually bound to keep services downtown funded at the same level. Is that fair?
Democracy matters. Elections matter. Corporations shouldn't decide how tax dollars are spent. Downtown is part of Asheville, not a separate entity that needs its own treasury.
Asheville is one city, one entity. We don't need the divisions that the BID would create, pitting one area against another.