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New downtown fee would generate $250K for development projects

Nathan Baker • Mar 9, 2018 at 11:51 PM

The Johnson City Development Authority may soon start the process to create a new district in the downtown area to help it fund its programs.

On Friday morning, the authority’s board of directors again discussed a Central Business Improvement District, which would add a fee to the tax bills of commercial property owners within the Downtown Johnson City Redevelopment District.

Authority member Craig Torbett said the proposed fee would be about $10 per month for every $100,000 of assessed property value, but it would be charged annually alongside city taxes. Residential properties would be excluded from the new fee.

Board chair Robert Williams expects the fees from the district would generate $250,000 annually for the city organization.

“It’s important to explain that it’s not a new tax,” Williams said. “It’s like a homeowner’s association fee. It’s a fee that they would pay in and have input over how it’s spent.”

The revenue from the new fee will help make up for a loss in revenue the authority will see this year when Northeast State Community College starts paying $21,740 less per month in rent, a decrease that was written into the school’s lease for the Downtown Center and parking garage.

Development Authority members have held five meetings with commercial property owners within the district and plan several more before representatives approach the City Commission for a first reading on the district, likely at one of the city’s April meetings.

So far, Williams and Torbett said the property owners they’ve talked with have been generally receptive of the idea.

“They’re seeing the benefits of what we’re doing downtown, and they want those things to continue,” Torbett said. “We’ve actually had very little pushback.”

Dick Nelson, who owns property and businesses downtown, said he’s cautiously optimistic about the business improvement district.

He was a member of the Development Authority for seven years, and he said he knows how easy it is for members to become insulated from the people for which they’re making important decisions.

“If it were approved, I would want to see some more communication from them about what they’re doing,” he said. “Something more than a newsletter about the events that are going on downtown. I think sending out their meeting agendas and minutes would be a good thing.”

If the city does create the new district and enact the fee, Williams said the Development Authority would add at least two seats reserved for property owners. The board would also plan a meeting at least once a year to discuss future projects for the district and get input from the stakeholders within it.

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