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Batavia extends downtown special tax district

Aldermen debate funding for MainStreet organization

BATAVIA – The Batavia City Council has extended the special tax district designed to help fund a downtown business organization. Aldermen on Aug. 20 debated the future of financing for Batavia MainStreet, which serves the downtown business district with advertising, promotions and special events.

For the past 10 years, MainStreet has received funding through a special tax on downtown property owners collected by the city. Under the current ordinance for the special service area that encompasses the commercial district, the city may levy a maximum of $40,000 to help finance MainStreet operations.

With the special tax district set to expire in November, aldermen considered a proposal to re-establish the district and to increase the ceiling to $100,000 when they set the annual levy for the SSA.

After a lengthy discussion as well as hearing from two prominent downtown businessmen, aldermen approved the SSA, but made clear they hope to eliminate the tax in the future.

Gene Olmstead, owner of Olmstead’s TV & Appliance, 221 W. Wilson St., told aldermen that MainStreet is a valuable organization, but he resents being forced to support its funding.

Olmstead noted that businesses have the option of being members of the Batavia Chamber of Commerce, but downtown property owners have no choice but to pay the tax for MainStreet.

Michael Marconi, who owns numerous commercial and residential properties in the downtown, suggested that MainStreet is too focused on promoting restaurants and needs to work more closely with property owners.

Fifth Ward Alderman Lucy Thelin Atac, whose ward includes much of the downtown, said that rents for downtown properties have not been increasing.

Fourth Ward Alderman Susan Stark, who also represents a portion of the business district, expressed hope that MainStreet can become self-funding.

MainStreet’s annual budget has increased from $120,000 a decade ago to more than $300,000 today. Originally, the SSA tax revenue constituted about a third of the budget; a subsidy from the city comprised another third, with the final third coming from fundraising efforts.

Now, fundraising and sponsorships constitute most of MainStreet’s revenue, said MainStreet Executive Director Christopher Faber, who only recently assumed the organization’s top job.

Batavia Community Development Director Scott Buening told aldermen that they can eliminate the taxing district anytime they want simply by approving an ordinance. The council decided that MainStreet must notify property owners whenever it wants the city to increase the tax levy. Faber said MainStreet would do this anyway. Aldermen also eliminated the automatic levy of $40,000 absent council action, forcing themselves to consider MainStreet’s funding level each fall during budget discussions.

Under the current $40,000 tax levy maximum, the owner of a downtown building valued at about $425,000 pays around $280 to the SSA. The new SSA could yet be overturned if 51 percent of the property owners file an objection.

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