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Business association debates $20,000 plant contract

Owner says Downtown was ‘skid row’ before the flowers, greenery
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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While some downtown business owners disagree about the need for a $20,000 plant service, others say the greenery has been vandalized on numerous occasions and needs to be protected. According to Jim Bril, president of the Downtown Business Association, the contract for plant maintenance in the business district is $20,000 annually. Bril said the district’s expenditure budget is $60,000 for the current year. Georgetown resident Vicki Liddicoat is paid to perform the plant maintenance, which she said includes picking up the plants from local nurseries, planting, trimming, fertilizing and watering. “It’s a serious part of the budget to pay for the plants,” Bril said. “As I tried to get rid of the planting program, or at least scale it back, Vicki didn’t want to do it if it wasn’t equitable for her.” According to Bril, the association spends its funds on events like the Parade of Lights, Art Walk and the Fourth of July and Veterans Day celebrations. It also pays for things like Christmas decorations, insurance, and its website. Bril said the association’s current unaudited income plus carryover is $80,000. When businesses in either the Downtown or Old Town business associations pay a fee for their city licenses half of the fee goes back to the districts, which totals $36,000 annually. The association has a $36,000 carryover from last year’s budget, Bril said. Auburn Cruise Nite and the Auburn Food and Wine Festival also bring in $8,000 annually to the district, Bril said. “That’s our income,” he said. “We have nothing else.” Bril said he thinks the $20,000 could be better used trying to get more people to visit Auburn. “We could better spend our money advertising, bringing people to Auburn,” he said. Gary Capps, who sits on the business association’s board and serves on the economic restructuring committee, said he doesn’t agree with the $20,000 contract. “One-third of your budget goes to planters and old containers,” Capps said. “They are definitely dated. They are ugly. We have a lot of vandalism in the plants, and that vandalism costs us money. There have been times where the person taking care of the planters didn’t have a nice variety. Some of the plants are very ugly.” Capps said while he doesn’t think advertising is the answer, the money could be used for promoting Downtown Auburn, possibly bringing a special event to the area that would draw more people. “We are using our budget to do some of those things, but to put one-third of your budget into plants, it doesn’t make any sense,” Capps said. “I don’t see the plants attracting people to town. I don’t think anyone knows the plants are there until they run into them or they block the sidewalk.” Margareta Swann, co-owner of Golden Swann Jewelers on Lincoln Way, said she has a much different view of the plants. “We were pretty much skid row, and very bland and losing business right and left, and so 10 years ago our merchant association assessed itself,” Swann said. “We doubled our business license. I went to every business in Downtown to collect a signature for this, and a big majority agreed to have this planter program. She’s on top of everything. She does much more than she charges us for.” Swann said she thinks individual businesses should be in charge of their own advertising and the business association should not be involved. Swann said there is surveillance footage of people vandalizing the plants, including spraying chemicals on them to kill them. Sgt. Michael Garlock, of the Auburn Police Department, said police reports have been filed. “There have been police reports filed occasionally referencing planters being broken or plants being pulled from the planters,” Garlock said. “This is over the past couple of years. These are sometimes isolated incidents. They are a couple times a year. It’s not something that’s happening, at least that we are aware of, every day or something like that.” Liddicoat said she has been taking care of the plants for 12 years, and spends five or six days a week maintaining them in the summer and maybe one to two days in the winter, depending on weather. Liddicoat said she just wants to continue working with the plants, and not get involved in any business association controversy. “I look at it like this: you get what you pay for,” Liddicoat said about her contract. “People don’t see things being vandalized because we plant before the public notices. We run 100-, 200-foot worth of hose. There is a lot of work, but people don’t see it because we are there early in the morning. It’s spread around Auburn. So there are a lot people who don’t see the work that goes into maintaining those planters.” When asked about the plant contract, Shelle Parsons, owner of The Book Haven, said she doesn’t think the Downtown Business Association has her best interests at heart. She said she doesn’t want to be a part of it anymore because of the association’s previous letter to the city of Auburn supporting the discontinuation of relaxed business sign regulations. Parsons said she has no say in what happens if she doesn’t go to the meetings, and she didn’t find the flowers maintenance to be an important issue. “I think the flowers are not really all that important,” she said. Toni Tidman, who owned the former Lincoln Way shop Curio on the Corner, said while she enjoys the flowers, she can also understand the need for advertising. “The flowers are pretty,” Tidman said. “They really add to the Downtown area, but advertising is important to get people Downtown and shopping. That’s why I don’t have a business anymore.” Adele Wise, owner of Wildflower, said she thinks Liddicoat’s contract amount is reasonable. “My understanding … is that in actuality we can afford that,” Wise said. “I think it fits OK. What, do they want her to work for $3 an hour?” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com