Barry Boosts Downtown Tax District
By Stephen C. Fehr
D.C. Mayor Marion Barry promised yesterday to speed up the creation of a downtown business tax district so private security patrols and street cleaners could be on 120 downtown blocks by the Dec. 2 opening of the MCI Center.
As Barry called the city's first business improvement district "an important element . . . for the economic revitalization of our city," business leaders from Georgetown and the U Street sections of Northwest Washington predicted that they would have their own business districts with security and cleaning teams by the end of next year.
In a business improvement district, property owners agree to tax themselves to pay for services the city can't afford. Or, as Barry put it yesterday, it is "a way for property owners and businesses to assist our government."
At a media briefing, Barry formally accepted the petitions creating the downtown business district, which is bounded by Massachusetts Avenue, Interstate 395, Constitution Avenue and 16th Street. The mayor has 45 days to register the district, but he said he'd do it before then so tax bills with the added levy could go out in early September.
Barry said a public hearing on the downtown district is set for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 18 in Room 200 of One Judiciary Square, 441 Fourth St. NW.
Over the next five years, the downtown district is planning to spend about $7.7 million a year to spruce up the heart of the commercial district.
Security guards will give directions to tourists, stop aggressive panhandling and call in crimes to police. The cleaners will remove graffiti, pick up trash and paint light poles, benches and trash cans.
Yesterday, cleaners from Baltimore's district sprayed graffiti remover called "Goof Off" on the spray-painted windows of the old Lerner store at 1111 F St. NW to show how it's done, and Barry got behind the wheel of a sidewalk cleaning machine borrowed from downtown Bethesda's business district.
Patty Brosmer, executive director of the Georgetown Business Association, said the tax district there could begin as soon as spring. It would cover a 35-square-block area bounded by Rock Creek, the Potomac River, Key Bridge and R Street NW. Its budget would be about $1 million a year, raised from a property tax of 15 cents for each $100 of assessed value.
Karen Snyder, a spokeswoman for the group organized to petition for the Georgetown business district, said: "Property owners currently are paying $2.15 per $100 of assessed value to the District government, which isn't providing the services we need. So for 15 cents more, we're going to get a clean, safe and accessible Georgetown."
A spokeswoman for the group petitioning for a U Street business district, Delores Johnson, said it had budgeted $125,000 a year for cleaning, security, trash cans and closed-circuit television monitoring on U Street between Seventh and 16th streets NW. The property tax for that area hasn't been set.
Although property owners there received letters in March spelling out details of the business district, they have been slow to respond. Under legislation the D.C. Council approved last year, a district needs support from the owners both of 25 percent of the individual commercial properties and of properties representing 51 percent of the total assessed value within a district.
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