Councillors are being urged to agree to a council ‘Yes’ vote in a ballot to decide whether Lancaster city centre should be designated as a Business Improvement District (BID).
More than 350 businesses and organisations which have a rateable value of more than £10,000 are taking part in the ballot.
In the event of a yes vote, they would all have to pay an extra 1.5 per cent on their business rates to raise £700,000 to spend on city centre improvements over the next three years.
The cash could be used to pay for things like street furniture, extra street cleaning, special events and new parking facilities in an attempt to improve the trading environment.
Lancaster City Council would have to pay the levy on 12 of its properties, including Lancaster Town Hall and its office on Cable Street.
A report prepared by council officers for next Wednesday’s full council meeting recommends that councillors should agree to the council voting in favour of the BID, which would mean an extra £9,400 a year on its business rates.
It says: “Where BIDs have been implemented nationwide, they have been regarded as effective and valuable tools for the business community to directly engage and provide meaningful influence over their own commercial environment.”
Meanwhile, Paul Cusimano, of Joseph and Co Menswear in North Road, who heads up the BID steering group has insisted that the vote is fair.
Ian Bailey, of the Runners Centre in Kings Arcade, claims the vote is unfairly weighted in favour of larger stores.
He says the rate hike faced by many small business would be “the wrong time,” due to the state of the economy and rising costs. Mr Bailey, who would not have to pay the levy himself, as his property’s rateable value is below £10,000, said: “If it was a vote between three businesses – me and the business next door voting no and one large business like Boots that voted yes – you would think the majority would win and the vote would be no.
“But because of the way it is done, it would be brought in because the larger business like Boots has a larger floorspace and therefore their vote counts for more.”
But Mr Cusimano said: “This is voted for in the simplest way.
“It’s one business, one vote and more than 300 will be eligible to vote.
“If 100 voted and it was 60 to 40 in favour, you would say that’s okay and democratic and it should be brought in, but it would actually go to a second test.
“That is the total rateable value of the 60 must be greater than that of the 40 saying no.”
Mr Cosimano added in a letter on the same issue: “It would be difficult to see how much more democratic the vote could be.”