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No assessment change for downtown
• Vacancies will impact revenue
Downtown by drone
Assessments paid by downtown Ceres business owners remain unchanged for 2022-23. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER /Courier photo

No changes will occur in the rate of assessment and the way they will be spent in the Ceres Downtown Revitalization Area.

That was the summation of the annual report of the Ceres Downtown Revitalization Area Board (CDRAB) delivered last week by Anthony Sims, the city’s Redevelopment and Economic Development manager. The report was given to the Ceres Planning Commission because that body has been acting as the CDRA board ever since there was little interest in business people to serve on it.

The downtown district was created in 1989 to make improvements or offer programs to enhance business activity in downtown. Businesses are assessed a fee, generally $10 to $25 per month, to fund the program. Based on gross quarterly receipts, the fees have not changed since 1989.

The assessments are expected to bring in approximately $10,700 for CDRAB activities, which include landscaping services, downtown street lighting, hang holiday lights, and change out the seasonal banners.

Sims said that if the budget is approved there will be $22,650 in expenditure and a deficit of $11,950 which would covered by reserves.

Revenue generally brings in between $15,000 and $18,000 when all businesses are occupied and thriving. Sims said vacancies in downtown are the reason the revenues are projected to be lower than normal.

“We have a lot of vacancies downtown so our goal in Economic Development is to fill those vacant property sites with new businesses to get those normal revenues back to where they need to be,” said Sims.

He believes part of the reason for the vacancies lies with the pandemic.

CDRAB has a budget reserve of $56,356. It is expected to end with $44,466 by the end of fiscal year 2022-23 that ends on June 30, 2023.

CDRAB pays for $15,000 in landscape services, as well as $3,255 for promotional banner rotations, totaling $18,255. The city Public Works Department is in the process of seeking new bids for downtown landscape services. Because landscape services may increase, the total budget for Contract Services was slightly increased to $20,000. The amount of $20,000 was identified as that amount was the largest amount approved in previous years.

The 2022-23 budget will next be considered by the City Council in June after a public hearing.

Years ago the city temporarily suspended funding of its Downtown Façade Improvement (DIF) program for businesses or building owners to change the face of their buildings. No businesses took advantage of the program, probably because use of those funds triggered the work down at prevailing wage rates. 

In March and April of 2022, City Council approved the use of $100,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to be used for downtown business incentives. These funds can temporarily take the place of the funds allocated for the DIF program. The ARPA funds are to be spent by 2024. For the annual budget FY 2024-2025, the proposed funding of $5,000 each year for the DIF Program will be brought back to the board.

A $1,000 “place holder” budget item approved four years ago was intended to be for wayfinding signs.

These collective recommended budget categories are identified as a positive effort to increase foot traffic downtown and enhance the overall shopping experience. Further, considering the significant impact to the small businesses in downtown Ceres, the City’s anticipated recovery may provide an opportunity to consider formal measures envisioned in some type of “incentive” program. The FY 2021-22 budget allocated $1,000 for Way Finding Sign efforts. Earlier this year, the City Council decided to use $75,000 of ARPA funds to implement a Way Finding Sign Program. Thus the $1,000 line item will be temporarily removed until fiscal year 2024-25.