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Petitioners win, council votes to dissolve WBID

Date: 7/11/2014

WESTFIELD – The Westfield Business Improvement District (WBID) will be disbanded after the City Council supported its dissolution. Petitioners requested the closure due to the cost of fees and the lack of an opt-out clause.
The council voted to approve the disunion of the WBID at a meeting on July 7. The petition to dissolve the WBID was initially presented to the council during its June 5 meeting, during which a public hearing was conducted about the issue.
“Unfortunately, the WBID is now faced with the business of closing down,” WBID Executive Director Maureen Belliveau, said. “It’s very sad – a sad day for Westfield. So much is lost, so much will backslide.”
She noted that the council and most residents agreed that the issue was with the change to the Legislature requiring mandatory participation of businesses and not the work of the WBID.
Massachusetts General Law Chapter 400, Section 4 states, “Participation in the BID shall be permanent until after the discontinuation of the BID as provided in this section, or until the dissolution of the BID under section 10.”
Chapter 400, Section 6 states, “The municipality may exempt from fees certain properties, specifically classified as: (1) owner-occupied residential; (2) agricultural; or (3) tax exempt.”
The petitioners Ted Cassell, Robert Wilcox and Attorney Brad Moir objected to the requirement to participate in the WBID. None of their businesses qualify for fee exemption. State law requires that 51 percent of the property owners sign the petition to dissolve the business improvement district, a goal the petitioners achieved.
As for the next steps, Belliveau said the WBID board of directors and officers will convene to determine the best way to make “a thoughtful exit.” Belliveau is charged with “tying up the loose ends” of the WBID.
City Council President Brent Bean supported the motion.
“I did support the dissolution of the WBID because the majority of the people within the BID felt that there was little benefit to their businesses and/or properties. The state changes in the legislation didn’t help our situation here in Westfield,” Bean said.
He continued, “It was a difficult decision to make and my only hope is that we as a city will find some way to built off what the WBID begun and truly make Westfield’s downtown a place where residents will work, live, learn and play.”
At-large Councilor Brian Sullivan was one of two councilors who didn’t support the motion.
Sullivan said, “I was against the dissolution of the WBID on the grounds that I feel we can fix some of the issues that present themselves and continue to have the WBID do all of the good things that they have done. We have come to far with its existence and the people that successfully got the WBID started deserve to continue. I don’t feel that it is a good time to assume other agencies, organizations or people are going to pick up what the WBID has accomplished.”
Reminder Publications spoke with Mayor Daniel Knapik prior to the July 7 vote regarding the petition. “I think I’m one of the few people still here from before the WBID [existed],” Knapik said, describing the downtown area as “poorly maintained” beforehand.
While the mayor “appreciated the position of the opponents [to the WBID],” he stated the problem was with the state’s changes to the legislation.
According to Chapter 400, Section 10, all debts of the WBID must be resolved and will not become the financial burden of the city.
The law states, “Any liabilities, either current or future, incurred as a result of action to accomplish the purposes of the BID improvement plan shall not be an obligation of the municipality, but said liabilities shall be paid for entirely from revenue gained from the project or facilities authorized, or from the fees on the properties in the BID.”