Aldermen OK panel for tax district

NASHUA – A proposal to form a special downtown tax district passed a key hurdle Tuesday, as the Board of Aldermen voted to form a committee that would explore the concept.

The services advisory committee ultimately would govern the Business Improvement District, if it’s formed. The seven-member advisory committee largely would be made up of downtown property owners appointed by the mayor.

Under an amendment approved by the board, one member would be an alderman appointed by the board president.

The Board of Aldermen voted 10-3 to create the advisory committee. Opposing it were Alderman-at-Large David Deane, Ward 1 Alderman Mark Cookson and Ward 7 Alderman Richard Flynn.

Absent from the meeting were Ward 8 Alderman Dave MacLaughlin and Ward 9 Alderman Jeffrey Cox.

“This is serious stuff. This involves the levying of additional taxes,” Alderman-at-Large Brian McCarthy said.

In previous attempts to create a similar downtown district, “negative reaction to it has always been swift,” he added.

But this time around, the proponents largely are business owners who have risked their necks to make downtown vibrant and are willing to pay for improvements, McCarthy said.

The advisory committee will establish boundaries and tell the business owners within those boundaries what the budget is and what it will cost them, he said.

A BID is permitted under state law. In New Hampshire, such a district has been credited with helping to revitalize Manchester’s downtown over the past decade.

In Nashua, Great American Downtown has been spearheading the push to create a BID, and a committee of city staff, elected officials, businessmen and property owners has been meeting for a year to plan the district.

An initial recommendation is for the BID to extend from the Hunt Community north along Main Street to the Hunt Memorial Building, and then a block or two east and west. Within those boundaries, nonprofit organizations would be exempt from the tax, which would be roughly 95 cents to $1.10 per $1,000 of property value.

The budget would be roughly $165,000 a year.

Private homes and multifamily buildings of less than six tenants would also likely be exempt from the tax.

By forming an advisory committee, the board starts a process that will include a public hearing for downtown business owners, merchants and other residents to weigh in on the proposal for a special tax district, proponents said.

Creating an advisory committee establishes “a better process for the community to have their say,” Alderman-at-Large Benjamin Clemons said.

“All of this leads to an air of openness, and I don’t see anything secretive about this,” Clemons said.

Cookson said he spent several hours canvassing downtown merchants, finding that many were confused or didn’t know there was a proposal to levy a new tax. He criticized the group of downtown business owners behind the plan for circulating what Cookson and Alderman-at-Large Fred Teeboom called a misleading survey.

Cookson said the BID should only be created if a majority of downtown business owners support the tax. Deane said he wasn’t swayed by arguments that the district would die a natural death if it fails to gain the support of downtown merchants.

“Although this does nothing more than set up the committee, as far as I’m concerned it’s the beginning of the end, because it gets the ball rolling,” Deane said.

Early in the discussion, Teeboom relayed a question to James McNamee, the board’s attorney, about whether McCarthy, Alderman-at-Large Steven Bolton, the board president, and Ward 4 Alderman Marc Plamondon should recuse themselves from discussions on the BID proposal.

In an e-mail, former Alderman Daniel Richardson raised the question, noting that the three aldermen participated in a group that explored the BID concept.

McNamee said the three aldermen were involved in trying to “improve the economic climate of the city” and should take part in discussing and voting on the concept.