Two St. Armands Circle merchants are looking for a stronger voice on the Business Improvement District (BID) board.
“We would like a merchant’s voice on the board,” said Jack Peffley, owner of Taffy’s Menswear.
To get that voice, Peffley and Scott MacDonald, owner of Crab and Fin, asked that the state law that dictates who can be a board member be better defined.
The statute states that board members must be “residents of the proposed area and who are subject to the ad-valorem taxation in the district.”
When the BID was being formed in 2001, Assistant City Attorney Michael Connolly and City Auditor and Clerk Billy Robinson interpreted that to mean board members had to be property owners, because they received the tax bills.
But Peffley and MacDonald wanted the statute interpreted again, because many of the leases Circle business owners have signed with their landlords state that the business owners are responsible for paying the taxes.
“Some of us take (the statute) to mean the merchants are subject to the taxes,” Peffley said.
The two business owners asked Diana Corrigan, executive director of the St. Armands Circle Association, to call a meeting July 23 with Connolly, Robinson, outgoing Deputy City Manager Pete Schneider and Mary Tucker, from the city’s purchasing department, which oversees the BID’s spending.
Corrigan said she only arranged the meeting and that the Circle Association is not taking a position on the issue.
At the meeting, Connolly issued a new interpretation of the state statute, which could open the door for merchants to be elected to the BID board.
“I said in 2001 that (the statute) could be reasonably interpreted as the property owner (is subject to taxation),” Connolly said. “What I’m saying now is that it can also be reasonably interpreted the other way.”
Connolly has asked the City Commission to decide Aug. 17 how the law is interpreted.
Marty Rappaport, BID chairman and the leading organizer of the BID, has concerns about the new interpretation.
“The tenant is never responsible for taxes in the state’s view,” Rappaport said. “(If a merchant is paying taxes), that’s an agreement between the tenant and property owner. The state doesn’t care who pays. The person who gets the bill is the person subject to the tax.”
Rappaport said the BID has worked well for eight years and questions changing it.
Complicating the effort to change the BID board now is the city already has mailed ballots to taxpayers in the improvement district to extend the BID another 10 years. It’s set to expire in two years.
Rappaport feels the property owners will cast their votes based on the assumption the BID will operate as it always has. With Connolly’s new interpretation, Rappaport said, “It’s going to invalidate the referendum.”
Rappaport said invalidating the referendum could endanger the Circle’s $13 million capital-improvement project, which pays for things such as burying utility lines.
Peffley said he’s not unhappy with the way the BID has operated. He just wants to expand the potential pool of board members.
“Marty has done a great job,” Peffley said. “But he’s doing the whole thing by himself, basically. We just want to get him some good quality help.”
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