The establishment of a new Special Service Area in downtown Wheaton is a matter of life and death for the , DWA Board President Keven Graham said.
“That’s what will ensure, carry on what the Downtown Wheaton Association does as far as helping to promote downtown businesses, create foot traffic and other things we do. If it’s not approved, then all the events you see happening in downtown Wheaton will not happen,” he said Monday.
In September Wheaton Mayor Mike Gresk touted the organization as an asset to the community and said without the organization, Wheaton would be a “lesser place” due to lower downtown property values. He echoed Graham's comments Monday that without funds from the SSA, the DWA would need to find a new revenue source to continue its operations.
Graham and the downtown organization are marshalling supporters to appear at tonight’s 7 p.m. public hearing at on the establishment of a new SSA when the current one expires in April 2012. The hearing will allow businesses and residents within SSA boundaries will have the chance to weigh in on the issue, but City Council will not vote on the matter at the hearing. Graham said he expects a vocal crowd for the hearing. During last week’s council hearing spoke out against the tax district during a period of public commentary.
Since the when Gresk cast the deciding vote to allow the public hearing, the DWA has been reaching out to its members and the businesses and residents residing within the boundaries of the SSA.
“We’re trying to educate people on what this is. It’s not a new tax on top of all the other taxes. There is a current SSA and our proposal is for less, which means the bill will be less,” he said.
Under the new proposal, the DWA would reduce the tax rate from 95 cents per $100 to 45 cents. Under the current 95 cent rate, the city of Wheaton receives 60 percent of the funds and the DWA receives 40 percent. Under the new 45 cent proposal the DWA would directly receive all the funding. If council approves the new SSA, it would remain in place for seven years. The tax dollars the DWA draws from the SSA fund the organization’s promotional efforts to market downtown Wheaton as a destination.
Graham said the mission of the DWA is to promote a thriving downtown with numerous promotional activities and marketing strategies. The DWA most recently hosted its annual "," a shopping event to benefit the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation and raise breast cancer awareness. If the new SSA is not approved, those activities and support services will go away.
“The proposed SSA will benefit downtown businesses, residents and property owners. It will bring in a lot of marketing and promotions for those businesses and ensure the downtown area is viable,” he said.
Last month Councilwoman Jeanne Ives suggested the city not be involved in collecting the taxes to fund the DWA. She said it would be better if the business owners that want to participate would pool their own funds to privately support the organization.
Graham dismissed that suggestion as implausible by likening it to a suggestion that only parents who send their children to public schools should pay for the school systems.
“Just like the schools, we wouldn’t have the funding to do the events we do and the marketing we do,” he said. “It’s true that if everyone says they don’t want it then the tax will go to zero, but then so will the benefits of the DWA.”
The hearing begins at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 10 at City Hall, 303 Wesley Street, Wheaton.