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NORMAL — A proposed uptown Normal special services area is on hold for a couple of years while a less costly option — likely enhancing the Uptown Normal Business Association — is tested.

"We want to explore if there are other ways to achieve the goals of the SSA without another taxing district," said Jill Guth, chairwoman of a steering committee organized to draft the SSA. "We struggled internally if this was the right time (for another tax), with the economy."

In a special service area, property owners within the boundaries are assessed a special property tax that is used to pay for chosen designated expenses, such as marketing, snow removal and landscaping.

The steering committee determined that marketing is the primary goal of uptown businesses and, in an initial annual $90,000 budget, earmarked 56 percent ($50,000) for it.

The rest was for benefits and salary for a part-time "maintenance ambassador," supplies and maintenance within the SSA area, and $5,000 for administrative expenses.

Guth said the maintenance position is now on a back burner and the committee believes a $30,000 marketing budget can accomplish the goals.

A side group is looking at marketing plans already used by uptown businesses and Illinois State University to determine "gaps and how to fill them," Guth said.

The steering committee also is working closely with the UNBA executive committee to consider ways it could take over an enhanced marketing effort.

"If it works, it's a positive thing," said UNBA President Brian Simpson.

The one potential stumbling block is that UNBA membership -- and the accompanying dues -- are voluntary; in an SSA "everybody pays no matter what," he said.

UNBA members pay $150 a year in dues. For Simpson, owner of Babbitt's Books, an SSA tax would range from $300 to $600 a year, depending on which method was chosen for calculations, he said.

If UNBA increased its marketing effort, it likely would require an increase in dues and more participation by business owners. Currently, there are 40 members, including non-business owners. There are about 70 businesses within the proposed SSA, he said.

"I'm disappointed the rest of the businesses don't join," said Normal business and property owner Harry Fuller. He said he's willing to give whatever option is chosen a chance.


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