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Friday, September 19, 2008

Time For A Downtown Chamber Of Commerce

More often lately, the petition action taken by business owners in downtown Janesville to control their own destiny is becoming a necessary ritual for city residents. Janesville does not have aldermanic representation, so neighborhoods including the downtown area are left to shift for themselves when confronted with things they don’t agree with.

The BID (Business Improvement District of all things) proposal made public in June to raise nearly $127,000 annually was defeated when a petition opposing the BID signed by at least 40% of the district’s assessed values was validated.

Also in Friday’s Gazette was an article about the area chamber of commerce landing a federal grant. The newspaper titles the grant announcement as Rock County Gets Federal Job Grant.
JG Excerpt:
The U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Agency awarded Rock County and Forward Janesville a three-year, $450,000 grant to help redevelopment initiatives proposed by local leaders.
While some business owners in downtown Janesville were pressured by others to increase their own taxes to form a government-run BID bureaucracy, the Janesville chamber of commerce captures $455,000 in federal money.
JG Excerpt:
"For example, we may go to the international plastics show and instead of just walking the floor, we may have an impressive booth that showcases our area and our projects," Beckord said. "The program will pay for travel, pay for marketing materials and advertising if we decided to go that route."
Must be nice, huh? Luckily for this chamber of commerce, they have Janesville in name only and don't hold any obligations to something like the county's largest downtown district.

The grant could have served as the tipping point to create jobs and attract business entrepreneurs and customers to downtown Janesville, at a crucial time when incomes and profits are declining. Pumping $150,000 a year for the next three years would have gone a long way to keep the downtown vital, energetic and better looking. Just ask the BID sponsors.

And if taxing yourselves into a BID was such a great idea as the Janesville Downtown Development Alliance would have everyone believe, why haven’t all the business sponsors and individuals paying dues to Forward Janesville petitioned the state or county government to raise their own property taxes for the same purpose? Why? Well, why should they when they have lobbyists working to confiscate state and federal dollars.

That is exactly how it works. This recent episode demonstrates not only what Janesville neighborhoods must do to effect council action, but it should also encourage downtown business owners to pull together and create a foundation to lobby both State and Washington officials for their own behalf.

They can create a neighborhood (downtown) chamber of commerce, but not just to decorate downtown during Christmas, print signs or buy advertising in the local newspapers. No, no, no. What they need to do is build a pot to fund one or two of their own to write grant requests and compete for those tax dollars. Afterwards, they can lobby state legislators to change TIF District rules so older business districts outside of TIF Districts can compete for TIF cash surplus. Why not, we're an at-large system of representation and taxation in Janesville. In short, they'll need to become as politically inactive as Forward Janesville claims to be. And they’ll need to compete against all others for those federal dollars if they are serious.

Everyone seems to be against earmarks. Until they capture one.

Sometimes, you have to take things into your own hands. If anything, I applaud the business owners who have taken the radical step of refusing to let others run them over. That's what BID will do.


Anonymous said...

The only jobs that grant supports are the ones at Forward Janesville.

I'm sure you're read today's Gazette article about using TIF funds outside the district. Sounds good.

Louis Kaye said...

I’ve read the Gazette’s version and I’m not sold on it. Placing a half-mile restriction on TIF funds is strange when one considers the extra tax burden resulting from the TIF goes well beyond a half-mile. This new state rule doesn’t go far enough yet it will open up a new sense of entitlement for nearby business owners AND it will give supporters of TIF districts a new reason to create even more. The article states that the city wants to create four TIF districts and apply the new state rules.

What I had in mind was the ability for TIF funds to be shifted to a single designated area of blight – mainly an older area like a downtown district where it could be proven that missed opportunities for re-investment grew out from misguided decisions to hand out incentives elsewhere. For these reasons I think the new concept described in the Gazette is a gimmick.

Anonymous said...

The grant was not an earmark.

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