Merced City Council to talk about downtown tax

Merced City Council will hear the findings of a downtown study of the double tax shop owners pay on their business licenses.

The city commissioned the study from Merced-based Alliance for Community Research and Development, which found 56 percent of business owners approve of the tax but not how it’s spent. Thirty percent would change nothing, and 14 percent would eliminate the tax.

Alliance used focus groups and surveys to gather input, according to the report. Three focus groups were held, one each for businesses around the east, west and central, or “core,” sections of downtown.

“Overall, the business owners believed that the fund should continue to exist,” the report states. “However, the core and east businesses expressed that they want to have input regarding how the money is allocated while business owners in the west felt strongly that they should pay into the downtown fund only if their area was cleaned up.”

Merced’s downtown is the area encompassed by G and V streets, the Union Pacific railroad tracks and the alley north of 19th Street. The 544 businesses in that area pay double taxes on their business licenses, and the money is pooled into a downtown fund.

The report states that all of the businesses were asked by mail to fill out an online survey, but just 30 completed it by the deadline. An additional 30 took the surveys in person with the aid of a volunteer, the report said.

Among the businesses that would keep or modify the tax, communitywide events, maintenance and security were listed as the most important. “The perception and identity of downtown Merced is of major concern to all business owners,” the report states.

Since 1970, the double tax has been designated to improve Merced’s downtown through capital improvements, administration, promotions and other uses as approved by City Council.

An additional survey of UC Merced students found they wanted to see “safety, security and beautification” in the downtown, which they called a “scary” place.

A copy of the full report is available at www.cityofmerced.org.

The double tax and the five-year economic plan will be covered during a study session at 5 p.m. Tuesday, in the council chamber, 678 W. 18th St. City Council meetings are streamed live on the Internet; a link is available at www.cityofmerced.org. Comcast’s Government Channel 96 will broadcast the meeting live.

The study session will be followed by a regular council meeting at 7 p.m.. The meeting was moved in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, today.