A proposed Economic Improvement District that would collect a fee from downtown businesses shouldn't require the city's authority, but it's fairly easy to see why it does. If the fee were voluntary, few businesses would pay it.
The idea, apparently, is to pick up where the Medford Urban Renewal Agency will leave off once it dissolves. Money collected from businesses would purchase hanging flower pots and holiday lights to further beautify downtown — both good ideas — and to fund a marketing campaign.
The district would stretch from Bear Creek west to Holly Street and from Fourth Street on the north to 10th Street on the south. Fees would be assessed on a two-tier basis, with businesses in the downtown core paying 11 cents a square foot and those on the periphery paying 8 cents.
Businesses would pay an average of $300, with the assessment on the largest capped at $2,500, over three years starting in 2014.
It's not hard to figure out that the largest businesses, such as U.S. Bank, have the least to gain from any marketing effort but would pay the most. Marketing to attract visitors to downtown would benefit restaurants, bars and retail stores. Banks, law offices or corporate headquarters such as those that will occupy the new One West Main building have far less need for foot traffic.
If businesses that could benefit from marketing want to join forces and chip in to finance a campaign, they should certainly do so. They might be able to do it for less money, too: The budget that has been proposed would spend $72,000 on beautification, $97,000 on marketing and the rest — more than $100,000 — on administration and management.
Contributing to continued efforts to beautify downtown is a worthwhile endeavor. Making the area more visually appealing will help encourage people to spend time there.
Marketing the area isn't a bad idea either — for those businesses that will directly benefit from increased traffic. But it's worth asking whether beautification that is confined to flower pots and holiday lights, plus some limited marketing efforts, should require more than $100,000 in management costs.
The City Council will take public comments on the proposal and plans to hold a public hearing as well. The question council members must answer is why the city needs to have a role in what should be a private endeavor.