The City Council last night voted on the business improvement district (BID) that's been proposed for the city's center.
The vote noted a somewhat unusual division on Council, as the agreeable seven remained cordial and agreeable -- except for the final vote, which fell out 4-3 in favor of a substitute motion by Councilwoman Diane Catotti for a 7 cent per $100 of property valuation rate.
The divided vote shouldn't be read as hesitant support for the BID; despite the marshaling of opponents by leaders that included notably Measurement Inc.'s Hank Scherich, all seven members of Council seemed to favor a business improvement district. The only variance? How much additional taxation downtown property owners should face.
But the 3.5 cent and 7 cent recommendations are just that -- non-binding recommendations for an eventual rate, given the July 2012 start date for the initiative. And while Council could act before next summer on the matter, there seems to be a good chance that a final decision really won't end up being known until after this fall's at-large Council election, for which Catotti has announced she will not stand for re-election.
Mayor Bell proposed his previously-discussed 3.5 cent compromise rate and got a quick second on the item before Catotti proposed the original 7 cent rate.
Ultimately, the Council was proposing to provide the same augmented funding to downtown through the auspices of a somewhat-reconstituted Downtown Durham Inc., but the two different rates would impact the source of funds.
Bell raised a number of concerns that he said led him to the lower rate, which would require a six-figure find of alternative funding by the city manager and administration. The mayor noted that all of Durham shares in the benefits of a revitalized downtown and that it was fair for the community writ large to pick up the aesthetic improvement and economic development costs of the BID. And he argued that with city and county government two major propertyholders downtown that didn't pay property taxes, it seemed only fair for general funds to pick up some of the tab.
Still, Catotti's argument held sway with fellow Council members Eugene Brown and Mike Woodard -- along with Howard Clement, who's more typically seen voting with Bell and Cole-McFadden when there's a divided dais. Farad Ali, who like Bell and Brown faces re-election this fall, supported the mayor's initiaitve.
Yet all this might just be up for some change down the line, with the reminder that property tax rates can't be encumbered by one Council onto a future body.
With a July 1, 2012 start date, the BID won't take effect until the FY 2013 City budget -- and typically, the decision on tax levels are set in May or June just before the start of the new fiscal year.
Legally, Bell noted, the current Council couldn't set a property tax rate for FY 2013, even for the BID, at all right now; tonight's vote on a rate was just a non-binding recommendation for a starting point for the city manager's proposal.
Technically, it seems, Council could vote on a fixed rate for the BID anytime after this July 1, but Bell noted that would break with the traditional timing of Council votes on taxes.
Holding to that conventional timing would mean a spring 2012 vote on the tax rate -- a vote, that is, after this fall's election.
Technically, two seats on either side of tonight's vote are up for re-election, though the mayor's seat seems perennially safe given his inability to muster a credible opponent since Thomas Stith's run in 2007.
It's too early to know how Ali or Brown would fare in a re-election, or to know how many other candidates besides the two of them and Independent Weekly publisher Steve Schewel will throw their hats in the ring.
(And it's hard to imagine Schewel, like Catotti a progressive/PA wing stalwart, reaching a much different conclusion that the incumbent.)
Still, the prospect of an election between now and an ultimately binding vote on the matter is intriguing, to say the least.
Particularly if the purely-speculative entry of DDI's Bill Kalkhof into a Council race were to happen, of course.
And while DDI notes that about property owners representing more than 75% of the downtown tax base supported the measure, one has to wonder whether opponents like Scherich will find this sufficiently umbrage-worthy to throw extra dollars into this fall's Council race, to boot.