THE creation of a Business Improvement District (BID) in Ennis would involve the levying of an additional rate on the business community, something which town manager Ger Dollard believes would be difficult in the current economic climate.
A BID is a public/private partnership in which business owners elect to make a collective contribution to the maintenance, development and promotion of their commercial district.
At this week’s meeting of Ennis Town Council, Councillor Johnny Flynn urged the council to consider a BID for Ennis.
“There is an urgent need for Ennis to protect and grow jobs and deal with the scourge of unemployment and emigration. The rise in unemployment figures is having a huge effect on our young people and this could give a sense of hope.”
He outlined that a group involved in a BID, if for example they wanted to develop a festival, would pay a sum equivalent to 4% of their rate into a separate fund to be used for the project.
Both the Ennis Development Forum and Ennis Chamber have expressed their support for the BID idea.
However while Mr Dollard agreed it was an “innovative approach”, he pointed out that BIDs is not a job creation initiative, it is about improving town centre management.
“The rate payers would need to pay additional levys, but the reality is in this present environment the council is finding it difficult enough collecting rates. The partnership we have with the business community already can do what we need to do,” he said.
Responding to the motion, Mr Dollard stated, “Ennis Town Council views economic development and tourism promotion as major elements of its remit. The budget for 2012, similar to previous budgets, maintains this focus with budgetary provisions made for economic development and tourism promotion activity, designed to maintain and stimulate further economic activity in the town.
“One such major initiative has been the Ennis Innovate project whereby a Regional Innovation Centre has been established at the Information Age Park, Ennis in a partnership relationship with NUI Galway, University of Limerick, Shannon Development, Clare County Council and the Clare County Development Board.
“The council will continue to work with other agencies and groups on a partnership basis to further progress initiatives that can deliver economic benefit and tourism benefit to the town.”
He went on, “A Business Improvement District (BID) is a partnership arrangement led by businesses, in association with the local authority, which focuses on a defined area. The partnership aims to implement specific projects additional to those already carried out by the local authority to enhance and improve the area for the benefit of all. BIDs are covered under the Local Government (Business Improvement Districts) Act 2006.
“The government’s arrangements surrounding the BID, following a public consultation process, involves the establishment of a company limited by guarantee and the levying of an additional rate on the business community to fund the specific projects agreed under the BID proposal.
“Whilst the BID’s model is an innovative approach, it does involve the setting up of a separate limited company structure, the allocation of additional staffing resources and the imposition of a further levy on the business community. At a time when government policy generally is to reduce the number of bodies and structures, it is difficult to sustain a situation whereby a further new structure is set up to deal with town management issues.
“In addition, given the difficulties currently being experienced by Ennis Town Council in collecting the commercial rate, it is also difficult to see how the commercial sector could carry a further additional rates levy, albeit for specific projects, as part of a BIDs structure.
“The essence of the BID’s model is for business and local authority to work in partnership. Ennis Town Council currently operates such a model through its ongoing interaction with Ennis Chamber of Commerce and through the progression of initiatives under the Promote Ennis structure.
“The council is committed to such partnership approaches and fails to see the benefits of a BID proposal at the present time given the additional resource requirement and the further financial demand that would be placed on the commercial rate payer.”
At the meeting, Councillor Brian Meaney said it was a “worthwhile motion”, but he pointed out that while BIDs have been successful in some places, other towns which have tried the model failed to come to agreement.
Councillor Paul O’Shea supported the idea, saying, “We have to be innovative in these times.” Councillor Tommy Brennan stated he would like to see research detailing if the business community would be prepared to support financially the setting up of a BID.
Councillor Peter Considine said that while he would support any initiative that would benefit the town, he was concerned about the funding needed to set it up. However, he said if there is a group of business people willing to contribute he would have no problem accepting the plan as an “aspirational policy”.
Councillor Flynn added that he believed a BID could enhance what the local authority has already been doing in relation to the business community.
“What we have been doing has been right and we have to continue, it’s a long process and I will take on board what the manager has said,” he stated.
Councillor Michael Guilfoyle added to the debate saying, “we can no longer sit back, I think it’s time to fly some kind of flag to say we are available.” However he added he believed more research is needed to see what areas of the town are interested.
Councillor Frankie Neylon recalled that a number of years ago the then president of Ennis Chamber recommended a 1% increase in rates to be used for a development fund.
“That would be a way forward to get everybody involved. And maybe after a 12-month period then we could consider matching funding,” he concluded.