While most city entities are working on the final draft of their 2019-20 budgets, the downtown Public Improvement District board is deciding between two with different tax rates.
The PID board discussed two slightly different versions of its 2019-20 budget during a brief meeting Wednesday but did not get a chance to vote on the matter. The 28-member board, which includes downtown property owners, was forced to cut its meeting short because it lost its quorum partway through.
The twin drafts are a reflection of the PID finance committee’s recommendation to lower the amount that property owners in the district pay into the budget, which covers services including security and landscaping. Currently, property owners pay a surtax to the PID at a rate of 10 cents per $100 in property value, but the PID may reduce that assessment to 9 cents for every $100. The 10-cent version budgets for $688,000 in expenses, while the 9-cent version budgets for $627,000.
“(10 cents) is what it has been since the PID was established,” City Center Waco Executive Director Megan Henderson said. “I think for the first time ever, the board is considering reducing the assessment.”
Henderson said both versions of the budget prioritize the same services and do not differ dramatically. The board has a list of what can be accomplished with each rate in place.
“There are a number of things downtown that require some kind of monitoring, and playing catch-up is not very effective,” Henderson said.
Jim Clifton, who represents the Dr Pepper Museum on the board, said the PID may create a position for someone to observe and report graffiti and trash during daytime hours, a role filled by Texas Star Security guards and, for a brief period, Waco Police Department officers.
“It doesn’t seem like we need a security guard during the daylight hours,” Clifton said. “We might not find anybody who will do it, but what we’re doing now is not effective.”
Graffiti removal at no extra cost is one of the services the district provides business in its boundaries. Henderson said graffiti in the district has increased significantly this year, from about 4 buildings total last year to more than 40 this year.
Both budgets reduce the amount spent on merchant support from $39,000 to $30,000 and increase the amount spent on messaging and advertising.
“This would allow us to add some more functionality to our website and produce some more materials for communication,” Henderson said. “What we’re hearing from merchants is a real feeling that locals are using downtown less.”
The board plans to bring back a part-time “trolley ambassador position,” an employee who rides the downtown trolley, answers tourists’ questions and gives directions, which will cost an additional $10,000.
Brian Ginsburg, who represents W Promotions on the board, met with downtown merchants who expressed interest in bolstering First Friday events, which encourage downtown businesses to run special discounts or extend their hours on the first Friday of every month. The draft budgets allocate $20,000 in seed money for First Friday events.
“They’ve very interested in locals coming and doing business with them, not only during the day but during events like that at night too,” Ginsburg said.
The budget may change slightly before the final vote in August, as the board is still waiting on the final appraisal roll from the McLennan County Appraisal District, which will determine property values, giving the board an official total.
Because the board lost its quorum before a vote could take place, it will need to make a final decision during its August meeting to meet its budget deadline. A meeting last month was canceled because the board did not have a quorum.