Getting things done. That is what Self-Supporting Municipal Improvement District (SSMID) Chair Bob O’Brien likes most about the organization designed to serve the downtown business district.
The SSMID board, which was re-established five years ago, is a self-taxing district that collects funds and distributes them for improvements or maintenance within the district above and beyond the city’s provided services. After falling relatively dormant during a 20-year term, a newly created board of downtown business owners was established to help the revitalization of downtown Newton.
“When they initiated the SSMID Board five years ago, we did it to become a Main Street community and I have been chair ever since then,” O’Brien said.
With the first five-year term coming to an end this year, a new 10-year term was recently approved by city council to continue the work in the district. The rate at which funds were being collected also increased from $1.00 to $1.50 per $1,000 taxable value for those business owners involved in SSMID.
To maintain the SSMID, more than 25 percent of the property owners which represents more than 25 percent of the property valuations much be on board.
“There are two thresholds. You can’t just get one large property owner who owns a property that has a bulk of the value to sign on, you also have to get a significant number of owners, even if they are a small properties,” planning and zoning director Erin Chamber said. “They are around the 50 percent mark in Newton in both areas.”
In the past five years, the citizen driven, grassroots effort has accomplished quite a bit, mostly notably keeping the downtown area clean. With only around $12,000 banked each year, about $9,000 goes towards weekly and during summer months, daily watering of the flowerbeds in downtown along with twice a week cleaning done by Progress Industries.
“They go around, pick up trash and sweep up different areas,” O’Brien said.
More visible examples of SSMID’s work include the metal trash cans placed throughout downtown and the Christmas trees the board purchased in partnership with Newton Main Street during the holiday season. Those types of projects and the speed at which they can come together are one of the reasons O’Brien likes being involved with SSMID.
“The board itself is it is made up of the property owners from downtown, we do not have sub-committees, we don’t have to answer to anybody … if we decide to buy trash cans, done. We vote on it and it gets taken care of,” O’Brien said. “I like the fact that it gets taken care of immediately. That is one of the great benefits. Also, the business owners decide what to do with that money.”
While the Newton City Government is involved with SSMID by providing support staff, it is not a city endeavor. The state of Iowa code allows for property owners within a defined geographic area where the property commercially or industrially zone to establish a district where they agree to levy a tax upon themselves for use within that district, Chambers said.
“It is not something the city government wants to impose on the downtown,” Chambers said. “Property owners in the downtown sign a petition, present that to the city clerk and then it goes through a process of approval.”
With a 10-year term approved for the next SSMID, Chambers sees the board starting to look at more long-term projects for the district.
“They proposed a 10 year time frame seeing it was a middle ground between the 20-year that was way too long and lost accountability and a five-year that seemed like just as soon as they were getting into the rhythm and getting some project ideas and saving up a little cash over a few years, now they have to start all over,” Chambers said. “(Now it will have) enough time for pre-planning and maybe to save back some funds for a number of years for a larger project.”
O’Brien said the bigger goals, he believes, will come into play as the streetscape project through the city beings to take place. He said the board is also open to the public and willing to hear ideas to improve downtown Newton.
“There is always room to improve, but I think we do pretty good for what we’ve been doing,” O’Brien said.
Contact Jamee A. Pierson at 641-792-3121 ext. 6534 or firstname.lastname@example.org