Greater Napanee considers dissolving BIA

Adam Prudhomme

Greater Napanee’s Downtown Business Improvement Area (BIA), which has operated since 1978, could soon be dissolved.

The fate of the organization was discussed during Greater Napanee council’s March 22 meeting, with a decision put off until the April 26 meeting, pending a recommendation from town staff. Council voted to consider dissolving the organization at next month’s meeting while in the meantime assuming responsibility for the items identified in the proposed budget.

The beleaguered BIA is facing an overhaul following the resignation of chair Karie Biggley-the 17th resignation from the board in the last four years.

The latest resignation leaves the BIA without a chair or any administrative support heading into the busy spring and summer months. With $76,000 in reserve, the question is now how will that money be distributed for the 2022 fiscal year.

Greater Napanee CAO John Pinsent, who has attended a handful of BIA meetings over the last couple of weeks, submitted a report to council outlining some of their options, one of which being dissolving the BIA.

“I think what precipitated this action was a desire to get on with the activities of the BIA, especially as it gets into beautification and planning some of the events that the BIA would typically plan during the summer months,” said Pinsent. “The intent would be in this fiscal year to use the (BIA’s) current reserve of $76,000, and given there’s some grant money in there and the issue of not hiring the staff, I think there’s sufficient money in there that they would be for fiscal year 2022 no BIA levy per say and we would look at different mechanisms through taxation to get a funding mechanism for the downtown association, whatever fashion that look like.”

Prior to council’s discussion on the mater they welcomed a deputation from BIA member Ron Yeomans, who voiced his support in dissolving the BIA in favour of forming a downtown merchant’s association. He also urged council to disregard the BIA’s proposed budget.

“That budget as a whole was defeated by the board and it was defeated in my opinion for a few reasons,” said Yeomans. “One of which is that the Bay of Quinte tourism, the town and the county all do marketing. Let them continue to do this and let the BIA focus its attention on other areas facing the BIA and the downtown business core. These things being homelessness, business standards and building standards and parking, just to name a few.”

Some of that $76,000 has already been spoken for however, noted councillor Bob Norrie, who serves as council’s BIA rep. Planning for some of the beautification projects require months of preparation and orders have already been placed.

“That $76,000, some of its already been spent,” said Norrie. “New waterless pots have been ordered, new brackets for the bridge. A lot of the motion is going on so we can’t just give that money back. We need that money to keep beautification going. The idea of a zero levy is excellent. I personally support Option 1 at this time, which I think is the way to go. Dissolve and let’s get this thing going. We still have a lot of volunteers and they still want to help out.”

Norrie added the event known as Guitars and Cars is also being planned for the downtown.

Councilor Ellen Johnson, who owns a downtown business, agreed dissolving the BIA was the right move.

“It has been incredibly painful to watch and there have been so many people who are part of the downtown who have poured their hearts and souls into this and been frustrated,” said Johnson. “These people represent the majority of retailers and restaurants and it’s not that a BIA is only involved in retail and restaurants, they’re also many professional services and landlords within the area who all depend on the thriving downtown core.”

Mayor Marg Isbester, who was a member of the original BIA, noted it’s a good group of volunteers but added it’s been a ‘struggle’ for the organization the last couple of years.

“It doesn’t make us feel any better that we’re not alone, we have several municipalities in Ontario, more than several, that have had to do the same thing,” said Isbester, noting other BIAs across Ontario are considering the same options.

Should council opt to dissolve the BIA next month the town would assume the responsibilities of the BIA going forward and would consult with business owners and commercial property owners how to implement funding for 2023.

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