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White Rock to assess BIA effectiveness

The city will spend $9,000 for consultants to survey members
In recent years White Rock BIA has focused attention on events such as Concerts at the Pier series (including last year’s well-attended performance by Colin James) to promote business in the city, but council is commissioning a new survey to assess the current mandate and how well it is serving BIA members. (Trina Lakusta file photo)

The City of White Rock has decided, on a split vote, to spend close to $9,000 for an online survey to evaluate the effectiveness of the White Rock Business Improvement Association (BIA).

Any decision on renewing the organization’s mandate for another five years (done by city bylaw) will hinge on results of the survey.

At its April 15 meeting, council endorsed staff recommendations to commission the survey, directed at all businesses and property owners in the city who are charged a levy for the BIA.

But councillors were divided on the cost, advisability and scope of the survey.

Coun. Christopher Trevelyan described such outlay, for a study of the BIA alone, “a non-starter.”

“The BIA does a fantastic job in our city,” he said.

“We should (consider ourselves) lucky to have the volunteers who give their time up to create events, support local businesses (and) be a really active partner of the city. To be constantly going after them — I don’t understand why.”

Estimated cost of the survey, to be carried out by consultants The W Group, is $8,875.

The current BIA bylaw remains in effect until Dec. 31, a report from corporate administration director Tracey Arthur noted.

“In order for the BIA to continue following this year, a new bylaw must be established,” Arthur told council.

Following direction received from council at the March 25 meeting, Arthur, chief administrative officer Guillermo Ferrero and BIA executive director Alex Nixon met to discuss parameters and a timeline for the survey.

The survey would elicit response from some 282 properties and 360 retail businesses, the report said.

Purpose of the survey, as outlined in the report, is to measure how well the BIA is delivering on its mandated activities, the perceived level of benefit derived by members, the level of participation in activities by BIA members, the level of communication members have had with the BIA over the past year, and feedback on how the BIA can give members even greater support.

READ ALSO: Record-breaking attendance for White Rock summer concert series

Notably voting in opposition to the recommendations – but for different reasons – were Couns. David Chesney, Ernie Klassen (formerly a White Rock BIA president) and Trevelyan.

Chesney, a critic of the BIA’s current focus on producing high-profile music events and festivals, voiced concern the survey did not go far enough. He noted it seemed to ignore the original questionnaire for BIA members proposed by Couns. Michele Partridge and Elaine Cheung at the March 25 meeting.

“I think this survey has been very much whitewashed,” Chesney said. “This seems to be ‘do you like these things that the BIA has done for you.’”

A response from Ferrero that elements from the original questionnaire could still be included – but that current questions were suggested by the consultants as being most “user-friendly” for members – also failed to satisfy him.

“The reason we’re even doing this is the majority of this council was not overly enthused about how the BIA has functioned in the past,” Chesney said.

Klassen, however, was concerned that council’s call for a survey has “got the whole business community in an uproar in White Rock.”

“I think we need to acknowledge that what we’re doing is probably not the best approach,” he said, adding that rumours have added to confusion about how much businesses are paying in BIA levies, although the amount can vary widely because it is tied to property square footages.

For his own small floral business on Johnston Road, he noted, the levy amounts to “between $40 and $45 per month.”

“I’m 100 per cent in favour of doing a survey and trying to make sure that the BIA represents what the businesses like, but we’re now taking $9,000 of taxpayers’ money to do this survey. … I’d like to suggest we take this one step further and see how both the BIA, and the city, can improve the business climate.”

Trevelyan said he had heard no complaints from businesses about the BIA in the last six months, but many complaints about city permit wait times “and other challenges facing businesses.”

He echoed Klassen’s call for a broader survey of issues impacting business, including ways the city could be helping more.

“Let’s talk about the BIA, let’s talk about bylaws, let’s talk about wait times, let’s talk about crime, let’s talk about garbage.”

Partridge, however, said she was satisfied with the survey as proposed, and suggested that gathering input from BIA members was a positive and direct step the city could take in support of business and property owners.

Cheung, too, was supportive of the proposed survey, and questioned Klassen’s statement that businesses are in an “uproar.”

“Is it not good to find out the BIA is serving their mandate for what our business community is?” she asked.

“Do we know (whether) they’re spending 60 per cent, 70 per cent, 80 per cent running concerts only and not helping advocacy (for business)? I’d like to know – we could be tweaking the mandate, is all I’m saying.”

At Nixon’s request the three-week survey will start on May 17, after he returns from a scheduled leave. Arthur said a report can be brought back to council by the June 24 council meeting, after which council can decide how it want to proceed with a new bylaw.

If council wants to initiate a petition process among BIA members on the organization’s future, staff recommend it take place in September, after the summer break, to maximize awareness, Arthur said. This would allow enough time for a final consideration of a bylaw to take place in October, she added.

Alex Browne

About the Author: Alex Browne

Alex Browne is a longtime reporter for the Peace Arch News, with particular expertise in arts and entertainment reporting and theatre and music reviews.
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