Downtown Business Improvement Area executive director Terry Guiel is crying foul after city council denied a two per cent levy increase that was previously approved by its board of directors.
Guiel calls the decision petty and a direct response to the casino feud between the two sides, which culminated with the DBIA taking City Hall to court for its decision to build the casino outside the city core.
“It’s not a shock from this council,” said Guiel. “It’s a continuation of the bully tactics and the punitive response to our casino appeal.”
In February 2017, the DBIA was awarded a settlement of $150,000 a year, for the next 20 years to be paid to the organization from the casino revenue fund from the city. Guiel says the two per cent levy increase was fair for the asking and keeping up with inflation and adds the DBIA board and its membership who attended the AGM in June voted unanimously the raise the levy.
“They (council) are really showing an immense amount of disrespect for our organization and our members who unanimously approved this two per cent increase at our AGM,” said Guiel. “It’s shocking that city council can go ahead and raise inflationary rates each year, but now they are telling organizations that do as much we do, that we can’t factor in inflation?”
Guiel and members of the DBIA board were invited to council on Wednesday for the first time to answer questions about the budget and some tensions were visible. Councillor Keith Riel says the organization didn’t do a good enough job answering questions and disclosing how they were going to spend its increased budget.
On Wednesday night Riel put forth a motion to withhold the levy increase and says he wasn’t satisfied the answers provided as to where the money was going.
“The city is giving the DBIA roughly $300,000 for beautification and promotion and when they made their presentation I looked at what their accounts were saying and what they were presenting,” he said. “There seemed to be a rise in employment or salaries and a decrease in promotion and beautification.
“I don’t care internally what they do with their employees but we’re giving money for a specific reason towards promotion and beautification and I see a decrease where that money has gone and in a different direction.”
Riel said he wants to see the DBIA come back and make another presentation to clarify exactly where the DBIA will spend its money, and says council will likely rescind the decision but until then he resents the fact that Guiel would suggest the decision was based on bad relations from the casino decision.
Councillor Diane Therrien was appointed to the DBIA board and says she was caught off guard by Riel’s motion to withhold the levy but agrees it was within the rights of council to do so.
“Being on the DBIA board, I have enough information to be comfortable with the levy increase and it only amounts to $6,000 and so it’s not a lot of money,” said Therrien. “I tried to explain to councillor Riel and to some of the other councillors who had questions and felt like they weren’t getting concrete enough answers to what was happening with the money.”
I didn’t work, as council voted to withhold the levy increase.
Therien thought the move was punitive in nature, saying the DBIA board was going to meet again to further discuss its plans as to where the money would be spent on projects in the near future.
The two per cent levy increase paid by the nearly 400 downtown business association membership works out to an increase of $6,100 for the DBIA’s budget. Guiel admits it’s not a lot of money but without it, says something will have to give and perhaps a project could be dropped.
“We’re a very tight organization with our funds but something will give.”
— With files from Steve Guthrie