- by Anne Finlay-Stewart, Editor

“The Owen Sound Downtown Improvement Area (DIA) is committed to providing leadership in the on-going development of the membership area as a vibrant and sustainable business, cultural, and residential community.
This goal will be achieved by supporting initiatives aimed at improving, beautifying, and promotingthe membership area on behalf of all of its members.” - OSDIA Mission Statement

We have a DIA in Owen Sound instead of a Business Improvement Area because when it was formed in 1973, the founders wanted diamap2to include the residents and community of our downtown.
The organization is self-funding, with all commercial properties within the boundaries paying a levy – a surcharge of $4.78 per $1000 of assessed value (with a discount for vacant property) – over and above their municipal property taxes. It is their money, to spend as they choose to meet their mission.

Next week the 300-plus members of the DIA are going to be asked to hand over $180,000 of their own budget to the City of Owen Sound, close their office and eliminate their staff.

The proposal by the City Manager and a City Councillor last spring to give 75% of the DIA budget to the City for “business sponsored” parking in the downtown is unprecedented in Ontario, according to Kay Matthews, Executive Director of the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association (OBIAA). “It is not in the spirit of the Municipal Act”, she said in a telephone interview.

At a sparsely attended public meeting earlier this fall, two DIA members spoke in favour of changes – almost entirely for parking reasons, with little comment on the dramatic changes to the DIA. Four DIA members, including two past chairs, expressed strong reservations about the proposal.

The meeting was followed up by a survey and the September board minutes read as follows: “[Staff] reported that there were 119 responses and Only 46 of those were DIA related. Members of the Board discussed the survey results and although there are great ideas within those results, the Board chose to delay the decision to do further research.”
A recommendation was moved and seconded:

“That the OSDIA look at other options to this proposal by researching how other Municipalities have accomplished free parking and how they paid for it.

Further, a clear understanding of how we will work with the City of Owen to accomplish the proposed changes needs to be established.
And further, OSDIA staff will prepare a 2019 budget based on the current year (2018).”

Before a vote could be taken, Councillor O'Leary, the original proponent of the DIA paying for city parking, moved to table it – and the race was on again.

There are 10 voting members on the DIA board. Four of them do not represent businesses that pay the levy that supports the organization. Three of those are paid by the City that is looking to add the DIA's money as a revenue line.

None of the board members have been elected or ratified by the DIA membership for over a decade.

Why is the DIA membership being asked to decide on their 2019 budget four months earlier than normal, at a special meeting outside the downtown, in one of downtown's busiest retail weeks of the year? And why a few months before this board's term ends and two weeks before three new City Council members take their seats?

What's the reasoning here? And what's the rush?





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