Downtown merchants' safety, cleanup charge rising

May 11, 1995|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer JoAnna Daemmrich contributed to this article.

Some downtown businesses will pay a little more next year for the uniformed safety guides and cleanup crews hired by the Downtown Management Authority.

The Board of Estimates, in approving a $2.48 million budget for the authority, granted a 4 percent rate increase yesterday in the surcharge assessed downtown businesses.

The increase of 1 cent in the rate, to 26.75 cents per $100 of a building's assessed value, was necessary to offset declining assessments of downtown buildings, said Laurie Schwartz, executive director of the management authority and president of the Downtown Partnership.

"That increase will generate the same revenue as last year," Ms. Schwartz said. "Many property owners will be paying even less than last year or the same as last year because they've had their property assessed downward."

About three-quarters of the management authority's budget comes from the tax surcharge, with the rest coming from city and state sources, contributions, a contract with the Mount Vernon merchants association for additional services and interest income.

A business paying $10,000 per year to the management authority will see an increase of $33 on its tax bill, Ms. Schwartz said.

The authority was created two years ago to provide a cleaner, safer environment in the 106-block Downtown Management District. Forty-four uniformed public safety guides patrol during the day and into the evening, trained to act as the eyes and ears of police, with whom they are in radio contact. In the evening the safety guides escort workers from their offices to cars, bus stops or the light rail.

In addition, the authority pays for 28 uniformed "clean sweep ambassadors," who sweep sidewalks, pull weeds from tree wells and shovel snow from bus stops and handicap ramps.

Several business owners who are members of the Downtown Management Authority said yesterday they appreciate the presence of the safety guides and cleanup crews and don't mind paying a little more.

"I think it's fabulous. The rate's too low, it should be higher. They should have more money," said Michael Weiss, owner of the Dark Room, a photo processing shop on Charles Street.

"The guides themselves have a very positive effect because they're in a uniform. People view them as an authority figure," he said. "They're perhaps a deterrent to breaking into a car, to a panhandler or someone getting mugged on the street."

"They're terrific," said Ray Muza, manager of Encore Books at the corner of Calvert and Lombard streets. "A lot of times when we call the cops, they won't come as fast as the Downtown Partnership will come."

But the manager of the Helmand restaurant on Charles Street complained that panhandlers shooed away from his establishment when the authority was created seem to have returned.

"When it started, it was very good. But right now I don't think it's going well," said Assad Akbari.

The Board of Estimates also approved a $436,000 spending plan yesterday for Charles Village's special taxing district to boost security and clean the streets of the central city neighborhood.

The budget calls for hiring eight police officers, three cleanup workers and a community organizer. Some $216,000 also will be spent on a contract with a security firm.

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