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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Downtown stakeholders voice concerns about additional tax

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Following the completion of a survey sent to the 1,137 property owners in downtown Wilmington, Wilmington Downtown Inc. hosted a meeting to gather comments about the creation of a Municipal Service District in the Central Business District.

The meeting, held Wednesday, Dec. 17, drew around 50 downtown residents and business owners, most of whom were concerned about the prospect of an additional tax.

A Municipal Service District is a defined area that receives area-wide extra services based on the needs and desires of the district, and the properties within that district are assessed an additional tax for those services.

The idea to create a MSD downtown is not new, having come up in both the 1997 and 2004 iterations of the City of Wilmington’s Vision 2020 plan. The restored interest in the idea came from the University of North Carolina School of Government’s Development Finance Initiative recommendations to Wilmington City Council for the redevelopment of the Water Street Parking Deck. DFI argued a downtown MSD could make the Water Street Parking Deck redevelopment more attractive for investors.

Multiple residents argued the MSD would benefit downtown businesses more than residents.

Wilmington Downtown Inc. director Ed Wolverton countered, with better and more stable businesses in downtown, the overall area and quality of life would improve for residents, business owners and visitors.

Isaac Lazar, owner of Isaac’s Men’s Shop on Front Street, said it is already too expensive to own a business downtown without the additional tax from a MSD.

“We have too many empty stores in downtown Wilmington and by raising taxes you are pushing away potential merchants from coming downtown, our rents are just too expensive,” Lazar said. “A lot of problems downtown are caused by drunkenness, crime, littering, peeing everywhere. … This is caused mainly by patrons of bars and clubs. Shouldn’t those expenses be placed on the establishments that cause these problems?”

Although businesses may stand to gain more from a MSD, the district could not differentiate between commercial and residential properties. If a MSD were created, the funds would go to the city of Wilmington as the taxing entity and could only be used for extra services within the outlined MSD.

Steve Mailard, owner of Dock Street Oyster Bar, said downtown residents and business owners should hold the city more accountable for increased services.

“I think we are heading down a slippery slope by imposing another tax. A lot of this stuff should be put on the city,” Mailard said. “We don’t hold our city nearly as accountable for services as we should.”

WDI and the MSD Task Force are challenged to determine what supplementary services downtown stakeholders want most and if the time is right for a MSD. Wilmington City Council will have the final say in whether a MSD is created and what its borders are.

The task force plans to present its findings to city council in May 2015. The next public meeting will take place in March.

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