Downtown business owners speak out on tax increase


A proposed 30 percent increase in special assessment taxes has some Mount Pleasant business owners worried about the future of their shops and restaurants downtown.

At Monday's Mount Pleasant City Commission meeting, commissioners held a public hearing on proposed payment terms for the special assessment district, which would increase taxes for businesses. The commission was set to vote on the amount of increase, but ended up postponing to hold a work session to further discuss each use of funding that would go to maintenance of downtown. The decision to hold a vote came after a number of business owners spoke out against the increase.

Commissioner Kathy Ling was in favor of passing the motion as it stood.

"A lot of work has gone into this the past couple of years," she said. "I hope in a couple years we can assess it and see where money needs to be spent." 

Ling's motion didn't pass, as well as another motion to table the vote altogether. After an hour of discussion, commissioners agreed a work session would best address issues with the increase.

Most business owners who spoke took issue with specific parts of the proposed changes, including funds set aside for power washing sidewalks and parking lot maintenance. In summary, some business owners said they don't want to pay more for something they are supposed to already be getting as property renters downtown. The goal of the increase is to keep businesses and downtown in general looking cleaner, with funds set aside for removing gum from sidewalks and displaying potted plants, among other things.

The increase would be paid by business owners downtown through a special assessment in their taxes. Contributions from the special assessment will total $115,500, with the city paying $118,000.

GraySky & Associates owner Damian Fisher said he supports the change, but wants to make sure commissioners know they will be held accountable for the success or failure of what it provides to business owners.

"You're creating a lot of expectations," he said. "We want to invest to create a more vibrant downtown--that's what needs to be focused on. Building accountability is important. You need to follow through." 

Commissioner John Joslin said he vehemently opposed the increase. He cited government involvement in downtown building maintenance as the problem. Special assessment funding started to be given to the Downtown Development Board for maintenance in the 2000s, when the board was running at a deficit.

"Nothing changed except requiring more money from business owners," he said. "I would support if I knew what was going to change. It seems like when we turn it over to the government the only thing that changes is it costs more." 

The city received several email opinions from business owners, most of which were not in favor of the increase. 

"There is definitely a disconnect downtown," Joslin said. "I don't know how we can sit up here and hear people saying they don't want an increase and still support it." 

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About Sydney Smith

Sydney Smith is a super-senior at Central Michigan University. She comes from metro Detroit ...

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