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BID to hold renewal vote

NORTHAMPTON — The Northampton Business Improvement District has scheduled a renewal vote of its nearly five-year-old downtown organization for July 9.

The much-anticipated vote is required as a result of a state law approved nearly two years ago that eliminates the ability of property owners to opt out of the BID, and comes three months after the City Council approved a petition to cut fees in half for most property owners within the district.

The renewal vote will include property owners who are current BID members in good standing with their payments. It takes a majority of those who attend the meeting to renew the BID for the next five years.

BID Executive Director Natasha Yakovlev said the organization sent a mailing Monday to the group’s 66 current members — who represent 112 properties — alerting them to the renewal vote and encouraging them to attend.

“We also intend to reach out to people individually through June,” Yakovlev said.

Yakovlev said the BID intends to mail an announcement later this month to all nonmembers who would automatically become members should a positive vote occur. The mailing will alert them to the upcoming vote. Nonmembers will not be able to cast a vote in this initial renewal election, something that BID opponents argue is a flaw in the state law.

“We are going to work really hard to make sure everything is communicated to all members,” Yakovlev said.

The BID board of directors has yet to decide whether the vote will be open to the public, something it will do this month, Yakovlev said.

Should members vote to renew the BID, the organization would include new members who will have the same rights as all members, whether or not they initially opted out. That means they’ll be able to vote on BID initiatives and participate in annual elections for its board of directors. The renewal, required every five years, gives property owners recourse to dissolve a BID if it is not providing an adequate return on their investment.

The BID is expected to grow considerably after a positive renewal vote, especially considering that roughly 60 percent of property owners downtown chose not to join the BID when it was created nearly five years ago.

That’s why the BID’s board of directors proposed a fee structure change this spring that lowers the fees it assesses most members by 50 percent. The BID currently has 112 commercial properties and a budget of $409,000. Under the new fee structure, the BID would have 279 properties and a budget of $510,000.

Under the proposal, members would pay a fee based on the calculation of assessed valuation multiplied by .0025, down from .005. A building assessed at $500,000, for example, would pay $1,250 rather than $2,500. Fees for other properties would also drop.

The new fees for current members are slated to begin July 1. New members joining the BID after the renewal vote would receive their first bills Oct. 1, Yakovlev said.

While the BID is proposing a fee structure change, the petition does not seek to alter its boundaries. The BID includes the central business district, Smith College and is bounded by Trumbull Road to the north, Holyoke Street to the south, West Street to the west and midway between Hawley Street and Pomeroy Terrace to the east.

The Northampton BID has been challenged and there are pending state and federal lawsuits against the city and the BID brought by property owners. A hearing on the state suit is scheduled for late August in Hampshire Superior Court, and the outcome will dictate whether the BID dissolves or continues. The federal lawsuit asserts that the state law approved in 2012 is unconstitutional. That suit is on hold pending review by the state attorney general’s office.

BIDs in other communities, including Amherst, Springfield, Hyannis and Boston, have all voted to renew their organizations by wide margins.

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