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Middlebury short of owner approvals for tax district

MIDDLEBURY — The town has yet to receive the number of signatures from property owners required to proceed with the renewal of a special tax in the downtown area. 
First implemented in 1996, the tax is part of the Downtown Improvement District ordinance that created a district of 119 nonresidential properties encompassing the central village around Main Street and Route 7 in the heart of the village. Non-residential entities located in the district pay a tax of $100 per $100,000 of assessed value for each property. Many individuals own more than one property.
As reported last month in the Independent, property owners pay on average $287.25 annually. The tax has generated approximately $34,000 per year and has helped fund roughly $1.6 million in downtown improvement projects, such as new sidewalks and street light fixtures. Funds are also allocated toward the Better Middlebury Partnership’s only employee, their part-time marketing director. 
The district is overseen by the Downtown Improvement District Commission, which develops a budget for the district and recommends to the selectboard the tax rate to be assessed to property owners for improvements. 
In order for the selectboard to vote on the proposed tax, two-thirds of the district’s nonresidential property owners must sign a petition in support of the extension. The ordinance was last reauthorized on June 7, 2010. The commission is aiming to renew the ordinance for another seven years, until June 30, 2024. 
The commission’s goal was to attain the required number of signatures (80), by July 1, so that it could be sent out with 2018 tax bills. Though that deadline has passed, members of the commission met on June 30 and reaffirmed their commitment to extending the ordinance. As of last Friday, they had obtained 62 signatures, according to Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay. 
“Our last meeting was brief, but we are committed to gathering the signatures needed to extend the DIDC,” said Commissioner Amey Ryan, who is also president of the Better Middlebury Partnership. “Each of us are personally reaching out to property owners to be sure they’re aware of the benefit of the DIDC in the hopes that they’ll sign the petition.” 
Commission Chair Becky Dayton, who owns the Vermont Book Shop in the heart of the district, said that, for the most part, district taxpayers recognize the value of their contribution to enhancing and protecting the downtown area through the tax. 
“I don’t consider it my role to try to convince anyone to endorse a supplemental tax if they feel it’s not just or worthwhile,” she said. “So when I have spoken to property owners who hadn’t yet signed the petition for DID renewal, I have either accepted their entrenched opposition, engaged them in productive conversation about the past and future value of the district revenues, or simply heard that it slipped past unnoticed and they would happily sign.”
Dayton said the commission is open to hearing ideas and suggestions from community members regarding the tax and the future of the district. 
“The district commission is open to input from any member of the community as to how the funds are allocated, and we’d like to have more feedback,” she said. “As a district property owner myself, I appreciate both the symbolic and real consideration this levy represents and have been happy to pay it.” 
Property owners who have not yet signed the petition and would like to do so should contact Ramsay at the town office if they require another copy. 
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