How Public is a Public New Rochelle BID Meeting?

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How Public is a Public New Rochelle BID Meeting?

May 31, 2010 - 01:31

The New Rochelle BID (Business Improvement District) recounted their successful lobbying of the New Rochelle City Council for a change in overnight parking regulations. Particular mention was made of the l0 p.m. to 4 a.m. street parking which had been advocated by the BID that was eliminated from the new law. Finance Commissioner, Howard Rattner, reassured the group that the law passed would not be enforced until June l. James O'Toole, who had voted against this parking restriction, wanted to make sure all the business owners knew about the change. Councilman Albert Tarantino, who is an officer of the BID, had met with Police Officer Marshall and would be meeting with him again in four weeks to discuss the effectiveness of this parking change. O'Toole added that seniors in the Maple Avenue building as well as 25 people in his building were told parking permits were only available in the Church-Division lot. The City Manager, Chuck Strome, is supposed to revisit this situation.

The trucks parked in the library parking lot were mentioned. The legality of the trucks parked in the downtown lots raised questions. Tarantino clarified that the Garden Street parking lot was the only one where trucks are allowed to legally park. The new Commissioner of Development, Michael Freimuth, replied he would take this matter up with George Rainone, Public Properties and Parking Manager, at City Hall.

Several suggestions were made for the location of the next meeting. Marc Jerome,, Vice President of the BID, continued that the economy was "tough" but pointed to the new CVS coming on North Avenue. Modern Hardware's ownership is changing and there was a slight management change at New Roc. Two new restaurants were expected and the Gundelach's building is being renovated. Goals for next year were projected. Jerome also felt the new parking regulations would support small businesses and restaurants. The BID will be supporting the planters in downtown and Bulfumante was donating greenery for the Church-Division entrance planters.

A discussion of the limited resources for the facade program and other,programs was discussed. The facade program uses grants from the New York State Main Street Grants and the New York State Community Preservation Program. Several new awnings would be funded by the HUD Community Block grants for up to $5,000 each.

A discussion ensued on whether the BID had to comply with FOIL (Freedom of Information Laws) and Robert Cox, founder of the New Rochelle Talk of the Sound blog, said they were required under state law to have open meetings and to have public records of their meetings. Jim Killoran, another non-member of the BID, was cited for his many volunteer activities such as cleaning up and painting benches and other items in downtown. Killoran felt nighttime presented broader issues of the hospitality of the City where additional lighting might be necessary. Freimuth, who has been ten weeks in his new position, after being introduced said he felt he would be working on developing plans for the City. He asked for a BID volunteer and it was decided former Council member Chris Selin could be their representative.

This meeting raises questions about the BID programs in New Rochelle and how they are funded. For example, in the 2008 Action Plan, the "consultant" Ralph DiBart was given $52,000 for downtown redevelopment sites. The City's "staff costs to implement the BID consultant project and downtown revitalization projects" was listed at $189,719. According the City Manager, Chuck Strome, the BID in New Rochelle was authorized in 2000. 50% of the property owners had to approve the designation of the area that serves as a BID district. BIDs operate, "under the jurisdiction of the New York State Comptroller's office." It is funded by both the city and the members of the BID.

A knowledgeable person who worked on a small BID felt BIDs work in larger cities but in smaller municipalities a BID is "just another layer of government, an extra tax on downtown properties. The BID budget may be large enough for the staff or directors, but not large enough to make a notable difference in the community." In New Rochelle according to former Commissioner of Development, Craig King in July 2007, BIDs financial support by the City has been since its formation. Perhaps the new Commissioner of Development will report to the taxpayers what BID accomplishments are projected for the future, including all the financial aid that will be needed. The taxpayers of New Rochelle deserve nothing less.

In the May 31 issue of the Westchester Herald