Chattanooga City Council members spent much of Tuesday, like many recent Tuesdays, debating the legislation and process for forming the controversial proposed Business Improvement District.
The second version of the BID legislation would establish a a special district of property owners in downtown Chattanooga, was introduced by three councilmen after the first ordinance failed at a spirited meeting in June due to a lack of a second after council members added seven amendments regarding liability, exceptions, audits and other concerns.
The council debated the new legislation Tuesday afternoon at the strategic planning meeting and was criticized by several members of the public at the voting meeting that night, just one week before the first vote on the new legislation is scheduled.
This week's debate on the legislation centered around District 6 Councilwoman Carol Berz's idea to reword the pending resolution to include all property owners within the proposed district, including 501(c)3 nonprofits, and allow them to appeal to the BID board to opt out, rather than excluding certain property owners and allowing them to opt in.
"I would like my colleagues to consider that everyone [within the BID] be on equal footing. ... If you don't like what you would get and there's good reason, then these people who have the interest should be the ones to make the decision," Berz said, adding that the council's members should be removed from the appeals process since they were the ones forming the board. "And because there's a conflict with us overseeing stuff that we have done, that makes no sense. Anyone who wants to appeal [the board's decision] can just do it to circuit court."
Berz's call to keep the appeals process at "arms length" from the council got the immediate approval of two of the three sponsors, District 7 Councilman Erskine Oglesby and District 2 Councilman Jerry Mitchell. The third sponsor, District 8 Councilman Anthony Byrd, arrived in the middle of the discussion and said he was not prepared to support anything without hearing what he missed.
With the sponsors' approval, the current version of the BID resolution and an alternate version including Berz's stipulations are likely to appear on next week's agenda for the first vote.
In the last public comment section before the BID is on the agenda and off limits, five concerned citizens spoke out against the BID, calling it taxation without representation.
"Our business is professionally dying in our city and it is because of all the taxes that come across from city and county and state," Rose Cox, owner of the Palace Theater said, speaking against the BID. "I pay taxes on things that don't make sense for me to pay taxes on. ... I am passed down other taxes that are hidden fees inside of my leases. ... We can't do anything about it."
The first reading for the BID will be July 23 at 6 p.m. at the John P. Franklin City Council Building located at 1000 Lindsay St. The second vote and public hearing for property owners, pursuant with Tennessee law, will be at the same time and place on July 30.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @sarahgtaylor.