Downtown Reno property owners won’t see a rate hike this year in the assessments they pay to fund additional amenities such as sidewalk cleaning, extra police patrols and ambassador services.
The Downtown Reno Partnership, the nonprofit entity formed to provide those extra services, had originally proposed a small increase in the rate. But under a compromise unanimously approved by the Reno City Council on Wednesday, the assessment rate will remain unchanged.
The Downtown Reno Partnership, however, will still enjoy a $155,000 budget increase thanks to a rise in property values downtown before the COVID-19 pandemic.
It plans to spend that money to hire an additional ambassador, provide pay raises for its employees and help supplement the added police patrols.
Ambassadors, who wear blue polo shirts and patrol downtown on Segways, greet tourists and help connect people who are homeless with services.
The partnership’s executive director, Alex Stettinski, pleaded with the council to allow the agency to increase its budget, saying the services it provides are even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“After the DRP has been active just a little under two years, downtown has transformed,” he said. “There are no substantial cleanliness issues. Homeless camps are gone.”
Council members agreed.
“Now more than ever those ambassadors are so critical,” Mayor Hillary Schieve said. “With business closed we need more eyes on the ground.”
The business improvement district, funded by mandatory assessments on downtown properties, was created by the Reno City Council two years ago. It replaced two special assessment districts, one that provided extra police and one that provided extra maintenance.
Each year the assessment must be approved by council, and property owners have the opportunity to protest the fee.
This year, 24 property owners submitted protests, arguing against the cost or arguing they don’t benefit from the services provided by the Downtown Reno Partnership.
The council rejected all of the protests, including one filed by the Regional Transportation Commission that had sought to lower its bill by $662 because it had demolished buildings on land it owns.
Businessman Eddie Lorton, who is running for Reno City Council, also objected to the assessment. His lawyer, Stephanie Rice, argued property owners should be given a break amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“I also have concerns with respect to the fact that while mortgage companies and landlords are deferring mortgage and rent payments and evictions are halted, we are coming together as a community to do what we can to help,” Rice said. “However when it comes to the BID, our assessments are going up.”
The Downtown Reno Partnership came under fire earlier this month when it asked the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitor’s Authority for $50,000 to help fund additional police services without first cutting its budget. The RSCVA had just implemented dramatic cuts of its own, including salary reductions and furloughs.
The Downtown Reno Partnership is required to provide additional police services — either through a contract with the city or a private security force. However the new assessment district doesn’t generate as much revenue as the prior one did.
The city of Reno has agreed to pay the $875,000 shortfall for three years but is relying on donations requested by the Downtown Reno Partnership to offset $625,000 of that cost. This year, the partnership has succeeded in generating only $380,000 in donations so far, including the $50,000 from the RSCVA.
Stettinski said he did not know whether part of his budget increase would be going toward that fundraising goal or not.
Anjeanette Damon is the government watchdog reporter for the RGJ. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @AnjeanetteDamon. If you care about shining a bright light on decisions made by your elected officials, please consider subscribing to the Reno Gazette Journal.
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