Meaford’s council has voted in favour of a plan that will see the dissolution of the BIA (Business Improvement Area), in favour of a ‘Main Street’ organization model.
“The BIA is limited in its ability to achieve success in such a comprehensive way because of the legal restrictions of its organizational framework,” council was advised in a report from staff. “’Main Street’ organizations have been specifically designed to strategically use local assets in heritage districts and bridge government, private sector, and community arenas, to bring economic and cultural vitality into downtowns. These are non-profit organizations with well-documented successes across many decades and in thousands of communities.”
BIAs are established by council under the authority of sections 204 to 215 of the Municipal Act. Meaford’s BIA was established in 1978.
The mandate of a BIA is to “to oversee the improvement, beautification and maintenance of municipally-owned land, buildings and structures in the area beyond that provided at the expense of the municipality generally; and to promote the area as a business or shopping area.”
Staff noted in their report to council that anyone owning commercially zoned property, or tenants of such properties within the geographic boundaries of the BIA, are automatically deemed members of the BIA, and therefore pay a levy on top of their property taxes. Meaford’s BIA has had an annual budget of approximately $23,000 per year.
“Due to the limited funds available the Meaford BIA does not employ any staff, and all administrative functions, such as banking, accounts payable, administrative support to the board, are performed by municipal staff. In larger centres, BIAs do all this independently due to the larger tax levy, meaning they can employ staff and contractors,” staff advised council.
Among the challenges that the current BIA has faced have been struggles to find members to serve on its board, as well as having a low budget with limited ability to increase revenues or enter into partnerships.
Staff’s report to council noted that BIA membership is not voluntary. “It is effectively a tax on downtown businesses within the BIA boundary,” staff advised council.
Being subject to the Municipal Act and its rules over budgets and how meetings are conducted, local BIAs are limited in their ability to respond quickly in order to adapt to change.
Councillor Tony Bell, who has served as council’s representative on the BIA board for the past eight years, supported the plan to dissolve the BIA and move in a new direction.
“I have to tell you that I have witnessed some well attended meetings at the BIA where there was people with vested interest that showed up and there was really good direction and conversation. I’ve also been at those meetings of the BIA where we failed to even have quorum,” Bell told his fellow members of council.
Bell noted some of the factors that he believes can hamper the efforts of a local BIA, including the restrictions of being an extension of council, subject to the rules of the Municipal Act.
“There needs to be a new direction for revitalization downtown,” Bell told council.
‘Main Street’ organizations on the other hand, “have been specifically designed to strategically use local assets in heritage districts and bridge government, private sector and community arenas, to bring economic and cultural vitality into downtowns. These are non-profit organizations with well-documented successes across many decades and in thousands of communities.”
Staff advised council that a ‘Main Street’ organization can help to overcome the limitations of a BIA, and better leverage local assets and community support.
First established in 1980, the ‘Main Street’ organization format has been used by more than 2,000 communities in North America.
“At the core of the Main Street approach to revitalization is a commitment to creating places of shared prosperity, equal access to opportunity, and inclusive engagement,” staff told council in their report. “The Main Street Approach emphasizes community engagement as a core element. This is supported through sustained commitment to education and action. As centres of economic and social opportunity, downtown commercial districts impact community health and prosperity, and thus they should be reflective of and in service to all members of the community. Main Street organizations integrate a broad constituency of citizens and stakeholders, visitors, entrepreneurs and customers, business owners, building owners, heritage experts, and cultural associations to produce a thriving Main Street district.”
Unlike the BIA model, membership is not mandatory for downtown businesses.
“The model is based on grassroots community leadership and buy-in and centres on the people who power local economies and lifting up the voices of residents and stakeholders. Membership, participation, collaboration, and partnerships are not mandated and are built as persons and stakeholders come together with a shared purpose.”
Staff noted in their report that dissolving the BIA and establishing a ‘Main Street’ organization would eliminate the current taxation on commercial properties for BIA funding.
Staff also advised that the current BIA assets will be donated to the new ‘Main Street’ organization to fund its launch.
“In order to help establish a successful organization, staff believe that the Municipality should provide start-up funding over at least the next three years. Until 2022, the Municipality has been making an annual donation to the North East Grey Health Clinic of $25,000. That commitment has now ended, and staff propose reallocating that money to a Main Streets organization in 2023. This would be confirmed as part of the budget process,” staff advised in their report to council. “Staff also recommend that the existing “prior surplus” BIA account, which holds approximately $60,000, be donated to Main Streets over a three-to-four-year period to assist with start up costs. This level of funding would mean that Main Streets Meaford may be able to hire at least part-time administrative and book-keeping support.”
Council voted 7-0 in favour of adopting the plan.