Response to tax quiet, limited

NASHUA – In the case of a proposed special downtown tax district, silence not only is golden, it’s also telling, city business officials say.

When the plan was introduced to aldermen last week, the question was asked if enough downtown merchants and property owners had been asked if they would support paying an extra tax for marketing and enhanced services like snow-plowing and trash removal.

The response has been positive, though admittedly limited, aldermen were told. Word about the proposal has circulated, but a vocal opposition hasn’t emerged.

“The silence in this case has been deafening as far as my position in the chamber,” said Chris Williams, executive director of the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce.

Speaking to an aldermanic committee, Williams said neither he nor the chamber has formally endorsed the special district, called a Business Improvement District, or BID.

So far, he has heard largely positive comments, and a dearth of negative ones, from downtown property and business owners, Williams said.

Several business owners spoke at the meeting, including some who have helped with the effort to get the proposal off the ground.

One of those supporters, Philip Scontsas, said the struggle with improving the downtown is getting all merchants to contribute. That’s the case with Great American Downtown, an organization that has spearheaded the push to create the BID, which must be approved and funded through votes of the board of aldermen.

“Getting everyone to participate is a huge, huge job, and some days it’s daunting,” said Scontsas, of Scontsas Fine Jewelry and Home Decor on Main Street.

But a tax on properties within the district would mean that everyone would share the responsibility for creating a vibrant downtown, he said.

“It’s time that we as the business owners and building owners collectively get together to do this,” Scontsas said.

Great American Downtown sponsors such events as the Winter Holiday Stroll and Taste of

Downtown Nashua, as well as the farmers mar Downtown Nashua, as well as the farmers markets. Member businesses pay $225 in dues a year.

However, if the BID is created, the annual dues would be discontinued, said Sue Butler, GAD executive director.

“Is it a perfect pill for the downtown? No, but it will go a long way to help support the downtown,” said Jody Gage of Fortin Gage Flowers and Gifts on West Pearl Street.

Not all the downtown property owners are so sold on the BID concept, though.

“I don’t have a position on this particular proposal yet at all,” said Tony Matarazzo, who owns property on Main Street.

Matarazzo asked several questions of a group of downtown officials and businesses owners who presented the BID concept to the aldermen’s planning and economic development committee. Among his questions was whether any downtown property owner could elect to not participate in the tax district if it were created.

The answer: No, all property owners would pay the tax, though some would pass the cost onto businesses that rent space, depending on the type of lease.

The planning and economic development committee voted 5-0 to recommend the creation of a services advisory committee that would govern the BID. If the full board approves the plan, then seven members would be appointed to the advisory committee.

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 fewer than six tenants also would likely be exempt from the tax.

A BID is permitted under state law. Manchester established one more than a decade ago.

That district, which has been expanded twice, has been credited with helping revitalize the city’s downtown.

Besides some property owners and merchants, other Nashua residents haven’t yet had a chance to weigh in on the proposal, though a public hearing would be part of the process before the district’s budget is adopted.

One resident who has added her opinion is Denise Coglin, who attended the planning and economic development committee meeting to get more information about the proposal.

Outside the aldermanic chamber, Coglin said she was pleased that Alderman Fred Teeboom has asked some tougher questions about the proposal and the new tax it would create. Coglin also said she was skeptical about creating a new advisory committee.

“No matter how you layer it, it’s just another committee on top of a committee,” she said.