Even though the published literature on the proposed Business Improvement District (much of which has been published by City) talks as if it's a done deal, it's not. Taxpayers have a right to read about the potential positive aspects of such a program, and I applaud all those who have worked so diligently to collect and communicate this information. However, we also have the right to be educated about the possible downsides of BIDS. That's an ethical treatment of an issue.
I'm not saying I'm for or against BIDS. I don't have enough specific information on the potential downside to make that determination. The materials published by the Rochester Downtown Development Corporation offer only one side of the story, a bright, optimistic one that reads as though the BID has already been voted in. This type of approach is what Rolf Dobelli, in his international bestseller, "The Art of Thinking Clearly," explains is the fallacy of Forecast Illusion.
As a city taxpayer and property owner, I've read the materials, and my business partner met directly with members of the Rochester Downtown Development Corporation) at its May meeting. Here's what I still don't know:
Even though my extra charges will increase about 900 percent ($34 annually for Red Shirt services versus a jump to an estimated $350 annually for BID), no one can tell me exactly what extra services I will receive. I read and hear about a lot of generalities, but no specific checklist of exactly what I can count on at my property for this large an increase.
Who exactly is currently paying for all the BID printed materials, web page, guest speakers, and meetings? We were told it was all through grant money, but no specific grants were named nor were any costs of all of this shared.
Are there alternatives to a BID? No one on the BID committee seems to want to address this. Yet I look at other city successes (Rochester's South Avenue's development being one) that have been completed with a strong neighborhood association and citizens, not a BID.
Someone suggested to me, "Isn't a BID really just a tax on a tax?" When asked this, BID advocates say no, but no one seems to explain exactly how the services will differ and why these "extra" services cannot be a part of our current tax structure.
How will we know if the BID is a success? Even more important, what do we, the BID payers, receive back if it does not succeed? RDDC should produce SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-based) goals and specific objectives that will measure the BID's success, and these should be monitored by an entity outside of the BID system.
As a property owner who loves this city, has made major improvements to what were two very rundown properties (without taking a nickel of the city's money to do it and being given no tax breaks), I'm just breaking even on one property. With a BID, I'll be pushed into the red, which means I'll consider moving out of the city and investing in a nearby suburb without a BID unless I can see both sides of the story.
I truly welcome specific answers to these questions. Perhaps the answers will convince me to stay in the city. I encourage every downtown taxpayer to ask questions (details at rochesterbid.org). As Mr. Dobelli suggests in his book, about the Forecast Illusion: "be critical when you encounter predictions...." I would ask the forecasters of the BID to communicate both sides of the argument publicly to those of us who will be paying the bill.
Marra is the owner of Indaba Enterprises.