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Other Taxing Issues - Downtown Warrensburg Community Improvement District

Free Press Article
published after the initial public meetings for the district, which is being promoted by Warrensburg Main Street leadership

Community Improvement District Proposed to Benefit Main Street

The leadership of Warrensburg Main Street Inc. is proposing a Community Improvement District encompassing the area of downtown Warrensburg zoned as Central Business District. The district will propose a property assessment of $2 per $100 assessed valuation, which would raise about $100,000 annually for the organization. Approximately 40% is proposed to go for salaries; a budget for the remainder is not yet available. Since the district will be under Warrensburg Main Street, it will levy an assessment rather than a tax. There is no real difference in effect to the property owner.

Warrensburg Main Street is a 501c(3) non-profit organization, currently funded primarily by contributions from businesses and the city. It has a rather broad charter, encompassing almost anything that will help improve downtown. It is staffed by a paid director, whose job includes writing grants, helping recruit businesses to downtown buildings, and otherwise performing administrative duties; it is housed in a building whose occupancy is donated by the United Missouri Bank. Its by-laws provide for a 12 member board with new members selected by the existing board members; board members cannot serve two consecutive terms. A downtown merchant indicated that it was difficult in obtaining enough volunteers to create competition for board positions. Currently a limited group of businesses provides the support voluntarily; it is stated that the particular tax exempt status does not allow membership dues. The financial problems of the organization have been attributed to the fact that only a limited number of downtown businesses contribute to it.

The process of creating and running a Community Improvement District is governed by RSMo 67.1401 through 67.1561. The first step is to draw up a petition setting out the powers and governance of the district and filing it with the city clerk. According to RSMo 67.1421, among the many detailed and extensive requirements for the petition are such things as a five-year plan describing the district’s purposes, services or improvements to be provided, a cost estimate and the names and terms of the initial board.

Only property owners in the district have a “vote” on whether it is formed. They “vote” by signing the petition. To be approved, it must be signed both by over 50% of the property owners and by owners of over 50% of the assessed valuation in the proposed district. If the petition meets the requirements, the city council will hold a public hearing and establish the district by ordinance. Any money raised will be controlled by the Board of Warrensburg Main Street, Inc. The board is subject to a certain amount of fiscal oversight by the city council.

The area included in the district would be the area currently zoned as Central Business District. This area encompasses the whole area north of the railroad and south of North Street, between Washington and the back of the Maguire Street businesses. Also included is the business area immediately south of the railroad tracks. Government and non-profit property (such as churches) are excluded; private residences and home-based businesses within the district are included. According to advocates, no consideration has been given to establishing different assessment rates for different classes of property based on level of benefit to be derived, as authorized by RSMo 67.1501.

Supporters of the proposed district have stated a strong belief that something must be done to sustain the efforts of Warrensburg Main Street. Some of the benefits attributed to previous Main Street efforts include the grant for downtown improvement now under construction, design assistance for downtown businesses, the improved occupancy rate for downtown buildings and the business incubator program. Supporters argue that they perceive a need to have all properties participate in funding an organization that benefits all, and that without such an organization downtown would deteriorate.

At meetings, several property owners stated their opposition to the assessment. Their arguments show three main areas of opposition:

Meetings are normally held on Thursdays at 10:00 AM at Heroes Restaurant. The meetings at which public discussion arose were originally intended to be working sessions to iron out details of the proposal rather than public meetings. Supporters originally indicated that they wanted to have the process completed before September 1st so the assessment could be included in the tax bills due by December 31st. Warrensburg Main Street’s office is located at 109 N. Holden.
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