State downtown director says Montpelier Alive should control DID funds
MONTPELIER — The head of the state’s Downtown Program said this week that in creating an extra committee to help evaluate how to spend funding from the Downtown Improvement District tax assessment, Montpelier created an unnecessary layer that no other community with the special assessment district has in place.
Leanne Tingay, Downtown Program coordinator for the Department of Housing and Community Development, said other Vermont communities with the improvement districts place their downtown organizations in charge of the funds, which are procured specifically for downtown improvements.
In all cases, the town or city collects the funds through the special assessment or tax levied within the downtown district and the municipality, Tingay said, then “disseminates the money to the downtown organization after whatever procedures the town or city asks for.”
“Montpelier is the only one that created a middle man in between,” said Tingay. “I understand where they were coming from. Where OK, they wanted to be guardians of the money, but I don’t think it worked effectively,” she said of changes now being mulled by the city council to take out the DID Committee and directly task Montpelier Alive with creating a plan to spend the improvement funds, which are gathered through the annual special assessment voters each March.
In Montpelier, the council ended up creating an ordinance and a Downtown Improvement District Committee to vet the proposals for how to spend the DID funds that began coming to Montpelier a year ago. It is anticipated up to $75,000 a year will be available.
“I think this is good that they are examining that,” said Tingay, of the council’s consideration of using Montpelier Alive as the agent to oversee funding. “I can see the city council asking (Montpelier Alive) to come to them and say, ‘OK, what’s the plan for the money?’ because there needs to be accountability. ... Did they have an annual meeting with property owners (within the district, whose dollars are funding the DID improvements)? Are they happy? They are the ones, at the end of the day, that are paying the bill for this.”
At a recent city council meeting, there was consensus that the council had erred in establishing the DID Committee, creating a competing structure that was working against Montpelier Alive’s purpose.
At the April 16 meeting, councilors will discuss Montpelier Alive’s plans for assuming management of funds from the DID assessment, said Assistant City Manager Jessie Baker. “The council has requested more detail from Montpelier Alive on this plan,” said Baker.
This week, the Montpelier Alive Executive Committee worked on its draft vision statement for that meeting, said Chairman Jon Anderson. That eight-page document will be presented for consideration, with a final version and budget due for council approval May 31.
The latest draft of the vision, in a copy obtained April 9, states, “Within the next five years, Montpelier’s street furniture will be upgraded; downtown will be decorated for both summer and winter months; and new signage will be installed to inform, direct, and advise.”
“Simultaneously, we will use DID funds to increase our promotion of Montpelier to draw more visitors from Vermont, New England and beyond,” the vision continues. “We will do this through marketing activities that will include a new tourism-oriented website, brochures, and paid and earned media, and with new promotional activities such as increased support of festivals through a Community and Arts Grant program.“
“This is for the betterment of the downtown,” said Tingay. Having two groups competing for how the DID funds should be used, “becomes too confusing,” with “too many hands in the pie, that can really mess things up. I get where the city was as far as making sure there was accountability, I just don’t know how well it worked out. ... I’m just glad that they are examining it.”
“You’re talking about public monies,” she added, saying the council will have authority in overseeing the work plan brought to them and ensuring it is carried out to the city’s satisfaction, “that a, b and c are done,” for example. “I’m sure a lot of those property owners said, ‘OK, the assessment is supposed to support downtown. What happened here? It is the property owners investing in the organization that is going to be for the betterment of the downtown,” said Tingay. “At the end of the day, they hope their property values increase.”
Of Montpelier Alive taking on the DID responsibility under the council’s watch, she said, “They are part of our downtown program and we take in statistics to say, ‘How many new jobs did you create?’ ‘How many new businesses have you created?’ This is an organization that has a certain amount of accountability to them, to the state, and to the city. That’s why the City of Montpelier said, you are our downtown organization.”
Montpelier Alive has its office at Montpelier City Hall.
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