Does the White Rock Business Improvement Association offer value for money spent?
That’s the question the City of White Rock will be putting to commercial property owners, following council’s approval – on March 9, sitting as the finance and audit committee – of a motion from Coun. David Chesney.
But White Rock BIA executive director Alex Nixon said on Monday he’s not sure what purpose the survey will serve.
He said the question was already put to property owners in 2019, as part of the process for the most recent renewal of the BIA for the current five-year term, set to expire in 2024.
The issue was raised amid discussion of possible ways to reduce this year’s budget to bring down a potential 6.3 per cent hike in city taxes.
Chesney said that while he acknowledged that it would have no direct impact on household taxpayers, he was putting forward the motion “to see if we could help our commercial property owners.”
He noted his motion was inspired by the City of North Vancouver, which recently conducted a survey of commercial property owners to see if they were willing to continue to fund their business improvement association.
“We are currently taxing our commercial property owners in excess of $350,000,” Chesney said. “On average they’re paying $1,000, minimum, and more if you have a larger business…I realize it’s not personal tax, but it’s a big whack.”
Included in Chesney’s motion was that the BIA levy would require a “50-per-cent-plus-one” approval rating to continue.
“North Vancouver recently did it and they did receive a 50-per-cent-plus-one approval,” he said.
“I’d just like to check to see if our commercial property owners believe they’re getting their money’s worth…they’re the ones paying the freight, not the taxpayers.”
The motion was passed 4-2, with Chesney, and Couns. Scott Kristjanson, Erika Johanson and Anthony Manning voting in favour, and Mayor Darryl Walker and Coun. Christopher Trevelyan opposed.
Chesney told Peace Arch News following the meeting that he doesn’t believe that support for the BIA is as strong among commercial property owners as some suppose – particularly after the hits the economy has taken through COVID-19.
“I’m betting dollars to donuts (the survey) won’t get 10 per cent (support),” he said.
But Chesney said he is prepared to abide by the results of the survey, whichever way it goes.
“I just want to ask the property owners if they’re happy subsidizing the BIA,” he said. “If they are, I’ll be the first one to take my hat off to them.”
He added that since business owners aren’t directly levied, they don’t feel the levy affects them – but he believes property owners automatically build the cost into their tenants’ leases.
“Unfortunately (the businesses) do pay for it – they just don’t realize they’re paying it,” he said.
Nixon said commercial property owners were already asked directly, in the city’s most recent petition during the renewal process, to respond if they did not want to see the BIA – and the levy – continue.
“This was an opportunity for them to speak,” he said. “Only six per cent said they didn’t support the BIA in 2019, and this was a decrease from 27 per cent of property owners who were against it in 2015.”
Nixon noted the figures quoted are accessible through the city’s website.
“It’s unfortunate this question has come up,” he said. “But our understanding is that we have been renewed for a five-year term. We’re focused on maximizing our value to members and creating an even healthier business community in White Rock.”
Prior to the vote CAO Guillermo Ferrero reminded council that if the ultimate intent of the motion was moving toward defunding the BIA, there is still a city bylaw establishing the BIA that would have to be formally revoked, and there are other legal commitments to the association to be considered, for which he suggested city staff could provide a corporate report.
Johanson also noted legal commitments the city has to the BIA, adding that the question of whether to continue the BIA had already come up at the beginning of the current council term.
“But, as I understand Coun. Chesney’s motion, he’s just wanting to ask the question – it’s not that we’re going to do anything as a result, yet.”
Also prior to the vote, Mayor Darryl Walker extolled the benefits of special events organized by the BIA to the community as a whole.
“The BIA does some tremendous work in the community, in my opinion,” he said.
“In many cases, because of the events the BIA puts on, business owners in this community do exceedingly well. That includes – but is not limited to – the Concerts (at the Pier) series, which brings literally thousands of people into our community. It’s good for us, it’s good for our parking, it’s good for the businesses.”
Chesney responded that while he enjoys the Concerts at the Pier series, he is doubtful that it and other BIA events bring a significant number of outside visitors to the city.
“I think it’s a great thing for the people in our community, but I don’t believe it brings a lot of people to these events,” he said.
But Nixon responded with metrics produced by Explore White Rock in 2018.
He said surveying people who attended the Concerts at the Pier series that year, found that, overall 60 per cent said that they were from outside of White Rock.
“And 53 per cent of concert-goers told us (in 2019) they went to a White Rock restaurant either before or after the concert. That’s a powerful way of telling us we’re bringing customers into businesses. With a total attendance of 24,000 in 2019, and if only 12,000 of those spent between $25 and $35 for a meal, that’s a total spend of some $360,000 for the concerts alone.”