Discontent dogs Simcoe BIA

Norfolk County is looking for ways to bolster confidence in the Simcoe BIA before mounting divisions render it ineffective.Norfolk council heard this week that a growing number of merchants and stakeholders have lost faith in the Simcoe BIA and would like it disbanded. The term of the last board of directors has expired. A new board has yet to be appointed.In the past, the new board has been constituted by the end of January following a municipal election. The latest slate of officers was rejected at Tuesday’s meeting of Norfolk council, leaving a leadership vacuum at the top.“There is a feeling it isn’t working,” Mayor Kristal Chopp reported. “If we take this away, we will have a hard time getting it back. A lot of good could be done with these funds if we had the right structure in place.”The Simcoe Business Improvement Area board of directors is an arms-length agency of the county. The BIA board is responsible for beautification and promoting the downtown. It has an annual budget of nearly $200,000. The funds are drawn from a special levy on properties in the BIA zone.Simcoe councillors Ian Rabbitts and Ryan Taylor are council appointees to the Simcoe BIA. Rabbitts said some stakeholders are dissatisfied with the selection process for BIA nominees, who are ultimately approved by council. He said some feel they did not receive sufficient notice of the BIA meetings in recent weeks where nominees were chosen.Members of the former board gathered recently to select nominees for the new board. BIA general manager Jim McGimpsey provided the list to the county May 3. Nominees included Thais Depotter, Cam Carter, Tiffany Niece, Sherry Lloyd, Doug Rixman, Brian Jones and Dustin Wakeford. Council heard Tuesday that Wakeford has withdrawn his name.“As it stands, I don’t feel comfortable accepting this list,” Rabbitts said Tuesday. “I’m not comfortable with the process. I know there are people in the community who are upset that they weren’t notified of the process. From the get-go, this has been cumbersome.”The mounting dissatisfaction has some wondering if Norfolk council needs to be more involved. Waterford Coun. Kim Huffman has suggested a formal interview process might address this discontent while increasing confidence in the county’s committee structure.Port Rowan Coun. Tom Masschaele shared similar sentiments.“If we can get that straightened out, I think we can salvage this,” he said.Peter Black, a former Simcoe councillor, stepped down as a council representative to the BIA in November. However, he remains a member of the BIA by virtue of property ownership in the core.Black said mounting discontent is due, in part, to some stakeholders thinking the BIA has more power than it actually does.The BIA’s mandate, Black said Thursday, is restricted to promoting the interests of the downtown, generating traffic through promotional activities and special events and beautification.He blamed this crisis of confidence on previous councils. He said past councils threw the Simcoe market open to competition from big-box retailers on the Queensway – contrary to their own official plans and zoning bylaws – and then did little to mitigate the impact on the core.As downtown Simcoe has declined, some stakeholders directed their dissatisfaction at the BIA instead of where Black said it belongs: The elected councils that made downtown Simcoe what it is today.“The BIA has always been willing to meet with people and learn what they want,” Black said. “But there is this thinking that the downtown is the way it is because of the BIA. That’s not the BIA’s responsibility; that’s council’s responsibility.“But everyone is in this upset state and they want someone to blame. There is this attitude of `What good is the BIA?’”Norfolk council is gathering information on the situation and intends to discuss it further at its next meeting on Tuesday.MSonnenberg@postmedia.com

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