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Old Town Business Association Members at odds at City Council

Fees and structure to be reassessed in May
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Auburn city officials and business leaders agreed the Old Town Business Association needs an overhaul to become more representative of all its members, during Monday night’s city council meeting. The association has its power delegated by the city as a business improvement district. It collects fees, which is uses to promote Old Town Auburn. In the past, if a business did not pay the fees it would be sent to collections and barred from getting a business license. Some Old Town Auburn restaurant owners say despite the amount of revenue and traffic their businesses bring to the area, the board plans events which only benefit retail establishments, and in some cases even hurt their hospitality businesses. Old Town Auburn Association board members say many of the people complaining hadn’t expressed their dissatisfaction with the association prior to Monday night’s meeting. After hearing proponents from each side, city council passed a motion that by May the Old Town Business Association must find a way to restructure its board to have a broad representation of businesses and reassess the fees it levies. The council also asked for the bylaws on how a business could opt out of the association to be researched and presented at the May meeting. Gary Moffat, who owns Carpe Vino, said he has taken a stand against the inequity present in the association by not paying his fees this year, which are more than $800 based on his businesses gross income. “I would suggest to you that the BID program is broken,” Moffat said. “Because of seemingly endless special events, the rest of us suffer because our customers can’t find places to park. The Old Town Business Association is a retailer’s association. It’s a one-way street and recognize that my position is I am not paying anymore.” Brian and Lisa Ford, who own The Auburn Alehouse, say they agree that their interests haven’t been fairly represented. They say they spend heavily in billboard advertising, employ 65 people and draw in customers to other businesses, but have had food vendors from other counties near the entrance to their restaurant during special events. “The fees would be palatable if we had any say in what they spent it on,” Lisa Ford said. Linda Robinson, President of the Old Town Business Association, said all of the association’s members have the right to share their views at the monthly meetings, but few choose to. She said special events, like Country Christmas draw in large crowds, which fill restaurants. “This last year we saw 4,000 to 5,000 people each night,” Robinson said. “We do realize it is an imposition to some of the restaurants, but they are filled up to capacity with waiting lines. There is a retail community that also benefits from these events.” Robinson said the process has always been democratic and said she thought the dialogue at the council meeting was positive. Councilmember Kevin Hanley said he wanted the businesses to develop a solution equitable for everyone by May to present to the council. “I’m not interested in micromanaging the Old Town Business Association. I think the business association should get together and make sure each interest is represented,” Hanley said. “If you provide a lot of jobs, employ 65 people, I thin you should have more influence than the lawyer or the hairdresser. We charge people a lot money. We have an obligation to make it fair and balanced.” Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com, or follow her on Twitter @AJ_News.