In an effort to sustain a healthy commercial district in Bel Air, the town's commissioners will be holding a hearing tomorrow to considera proposal creating a commercial district management authority.
The authority would have a budget of between $50,000 and $60,000 to finance promotions and marketing activities for businesses located in the center of town.
As proposed, the annual levy for each business would range from $100 for a business employing five people to a maximum of $250 for businesses with more than 21 employees. The levy would be sent out with the town property tax bill in July.
"While Bel Air has been doing very well, there are some instances where it could be doing better," said Elizabeth Carven, the town's community development administrator.
The idea behind the authority is to give local business associations, in cooperation with local government, the ability to manage their commercial districts much like shopping malls.
Businesses couldhave cooperative promotions, engage in special clean-up campaigns, hold special events and put up seasonal decorations.
"We are going to be able to expand what the business association already does," said Lester Feinberg, a Bel Air-based attorney and president of the Bel Air Business Association.
Supporters of commercial district authorities believe such activities will attract customers to the businesses within the commercial district.
Not all merchants are enthusiastic about it, however.
"We are skeptical about it," said Jim Carrozza, who owns The Strawberry Patch, a gift shop on South Main Street.
"From my standpoint as a small-shop owner, it is another burden, of which I have enough already. It is going to be another cost of doing business in town."
If the measure is passed, the authority wouldcreate a special taxing district that could levy an assessment against all businesses in the district. The money would be used to pay foractivities that benefit the merchants and businesses within the district.
Although the Bel Air Business Association has sponsored manyof these activities, there hasn't been a consistent or sustained effort because of irregular financing and reliance on volunteers, supporters of the authority argue.
By creating the authority, the Bel Air Business Association will receive a predictable amount of money andreduce the amount of time and effort its members spend on collectingvoluntary dues.
The authority also means that businesses which have benefited from the promotional efforts of the association but refused to provide money or labor won't be getting a free ride any longer, note proponents of the measure.
Mary Sturgill, who opened Nikki's Consignment's and More in January, said she did not know of the proposal but said proponents will have to convince her of its wisdom.
It will be up to the 450 businesses in the proposed district to decide whether the levies are appropriate and would afford activities thebusinesses would want.
Craven said the special commercial districts originated in the Midwest in the 1970s as a means of reviving commercial areas of small towns that were losing customers and stores to suburban shopping malls.
"About 80 percent of the towns with thesedistricts have been successful in sustaining or revitalizing their commercial districts," she said.
A number of towns in Maryland -- including Berlin, Oakland and Pikesville -- have taken advantage of the enabling legislation allowing creation of such districts.