White Rock council has stepped back from a committee-level decision to ask commercial property owners whether the annual Business Improvement Association levy is a worthwhile expense.
At the March 28 regular meeting, a majority of councillors voted against the measure, originally raised by Coun. David Chesney at the March 8 Finance and Audit Committee and approved to move to council for discussion and a final vote.
Chesney’s motion would have required the BIA to be endorsed by 50 per cent of commercial owners – plus one – for the levy and the organization to continue.
It was, however, defeated 5-1, with Mayor Darryl Walker and Couns. Scott Kristjanson, Christopher Trevelyan, Anthony Manning and Erica Johanson voting against it.
“I guess we’re still in business,” White Rock BIA executive director Alex Nixon told Peace Arch News following the meeting. “We’ll carry on doing what we do to promote business in the community.”
Prior to the vote, Chesney said he had brought the matter up during budget deliberations because “there was not one single word said about the commercial property owners.”
“Commercial property owners in this community pay four times the tax rate of a residential property owner, and we never spent minute one addressing any concerns or any tax relief for them,” he said.
“I’m not against BIAs. I think BIAs do an incredible job. But I am surprised at the incredible push-back; the quick jump-to-the-mark… lobbying by a group that claims to think they have the support of the community… Most of the businesses don’t know and don’t believe they pay the levy.
“All I’m trying to do is get the community involved, the commercial property owners, the residential or business owners, whoever it is…to start doing something to make this community viable. Why is there such hesitancy to ask this question?”
Walker spoke strongly in defense of the city’s BIA, which is still working through a five-year mandate set to expire in 2024.
“I think the loss of the BIA would be a huge blow to the community, and the work that is done in this community, at a time when we’re just starting to come out of COVID-19,” he said.
Manning said that while he appreciated the spirit of Chesney’s asking to canvas property owners about the BIA, he did not want to see the BIA “unplugged” at this point.
“We have a lot of very engaged business owners in our community and a lot of very dis-engaged commercial property owners,” Manning observed.
“I am really disgusted by the disrepair we see along Johnston Road and along Marine Drive – storefronts that have been empty for years. White Rock is prime property, both uptown and the waterfront, and I don’t know what it’s going to take, but we need to get these people involved. You can’t push any more cost on the business owners – they already pay triple-net leases. There’s no excuse for our waterfront to be as drab as it is in many parts.”
Kristjanson said that a number of commercial properties are in the hands of absentee owners who have “no interest in answering a survey,” or interest in developing the buildings or “worrying about them.”
“We’re not going to get a lot of these building owners to answer the survey – it’s a fait accompli, you’re not going to get your 50 per cent plus one,” he said.
“We cannot have a Sword of Damocles hovering above the BIA,” Trevelyan said.
“I completely agree – contact commercial owners when the term is up, and then we have this entire conversation and get on with it.”