Tuesday, July 15, 2008

UEZ Funds Sought for Cameras, More

A proposal to use Urban Enterprise Zone funding for downtown surveillance cameras provoked concerns that the city will have to pay for the program in future.

Urban Enterprise Zone funds come from sales tax generated by certified retailers in the zone. Retailers are permitted to charge only half the normal 7 percent state sales tax and the tax monies accumulate in an account that can later be tapped for projects in the zone.

The council will vote next Monday on whether to seek approval from the Urban Enterprise Zone Authority to use $1 million for the surveillance project, which is intended to reduce crime.

The 18 pole-mounted cameras will cost $355,790. Monitoring will require two staffers from the Police Division. The cameras may be located in either the basement of the former Tepper’s building or in police headquarters. A feasibility study is planned to determine operating costs.

Councilman Cory Storch balked and said he could not vote on the project without a “ballpark figure” on costs.

“That’s why you have the feasibility study,” City Administrator Marc Dashield said.

Dashield said, “All this does is give authorization to allocate the money,” and assured the council that all contracts for the project would be subject to their approval.

If the council agrees to seek the funding, it could take four months to get state approval, Dashield said.

Among other applications for UEZ funds, the city wants $24,000 for a “purchase assistance program” that would provide half the amount of costs for downtown merchants who want to install inside surveillance cameras. Applicants for funding would have to be certified retailers in the UEZ program.

Another application is for $1,000 to finance downtown maintenance and yet another is for $10,955.84 to buy a commercial quality hot water pressure washer that can remove gum from sidewalks. The last three benefit the Special Improvement District. Dashield said the city is not giving the SID any funds this year, but will work to achieve projects benefiting the district.

The SID had been receiving half its budget from a special assessment on property owners in the district and half from UEZ funds. But because the UEZ funds were coming through so late, the SID board decided to forego them for the year ending June 30. However, due to delays in assessments and other glitches, the SID had not even received that funding by very late in the budget year.

Another UEZ application is for $345,000 to continue a sign and facade program that helps merchants improve their storefronts. The total amount sought is $2.9 million

City staffer Jacques Howard reported that after the five requests outlined Monday, the city would have $3.5 million in its UEZ account. Asked how much it is replenished yearly from sales taxes, Howard said the amount is currently $300,000.

--Bernice Paglia


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