CID debate shifts to ensuring districts benefit the public

The debate over Community Improvement District (CID) policy continues at city hall, but the focus has shifted. As the city’s Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee heard a substitute resolution and public testimony yesterday, committee chair Ed Ford said his committee  originally began looking at the issue of single owner CIDS. Ford said now, however, his concern  has become ensuring the districts deliver the public benefits they promise.

This map, taken from the city website, shows community improvement districts now in place in Midtown. They include 39th Street, Main Street and Westport. A Broadway CID and others are in the planning stages.

In July, the council began reviewing its policies regarding CIDs, a popular new development tool being used by businesses across the city to jointly finance services. The districts are funded either by a property tax agreed to by property owners, a sales tax approved by property owners and paid by customers, or both. The city currently has about 33 CIDs and the city said there were 31 additional requests for CIDs in process in July.

At yesterday’s hearing, Councilman Ed Ford explained his current concern about the proliferation of CIDs. “They are coming fast and furious. I would say they are a cottage industry at some of the law firms and if they continue at this rate, in a few years there won’t be any area of the city that doesn’t have a CID.“ Ford admitted he started out with a concern about single-owner CIDs but throughout the hearings, “I decided the issue is the public benefit.”

The most controversial part of the current draft revolves around how the city can ensure sales-tax funded CIDs are actually delivering on their promises. The draft says the council would approve sales tax CIDs for ten years. At the end of the ten years, the council would review the CID to ensure it had actually provided the public benefits, and if it had, would renew the district for another ten years. The draft also adds an additional city safeguard: the City Planning, Zoning and Economic Development committee would receive annual reports on the CID. City officials say currently, the reports go directly to the city clerk and there is no assurance they are reviewed.

Attorney Charles Renner, who represents many CIDs, said the city started out looking at single owner CIDS and promised that stakeholders, which he defined as current CID members, would be heard by the committee. “Today there have been none of those scheduled stakeholder meetings in front of the committee. The single owner CID concept has gone away. And by the language of the policy now, the restriction on area wide service CIDs are greater than what was in the original policy.”

Since the measure would not go into effect until a year after its passage, current CIDs and those now in the process of being formed would be exempted.

Ford said the committee will continue taking public testimony at its Oct. 24 meeting, and it may vote on the issue at that time, or it may continue refining the proposal.

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