Spinal Column: Streamlining the Business Improvement Zone law will benefit everyone

By Sen. Mike Kowall
15th Senate District
 
Some key economic indicators signaling Michigan’s recovery are the state’s decreasing unemployment rate, its high rankings among business and economic analysts and the jobs being created by small and large companies alike.
 
There is another indicator that is perhaps somewhat less tangible than the first three but is equally important: quality of life. Michigan’s abundant natural resources, such as the Great Lakes, the thousands of inland lakes, rivers and streams, and our majestic forests and dunes—combined with our world-class universities and big cities that provide access to an enriching arts and cultural life—make the quality of life for Michiganders second to none.
 
An increasing number of companies that are most directly responsible for the three economic indicators of unemployment, business rankings and job creation are recognizing the significance of quality of life to their bottom line.
 
This same understanding helped lead to the passage years ago of a law allowing businesses and others to create Business Improvement Zones (BIZ) for economic development within a city or village. A BIZ has the power to levy special assessments and issue bonds to promote business within the district and to support public improvements, such as green spaces, sidewalks, park areas and other improvements.
 
The assessments are paid by property owners located within the zone who must approve the BIZ plan. These zones are used as tools for improving the overall quality of life in an area, with the ultimate goal of increasing local property values.
 
BIZ districts generally are formed to enhance public sector services in an area or to provide services that the public sector has never provided or no longer provides. Business Improvement Zones have proven their effectiveness as tools for downtown revitalization for decades. 
 
The zones benefit everyone located in the zone as well as those nearby. By enabling local businesses and property owners to come together to improve their community, the program in turn provides growth opportunities for those businesses. The zones are an investment by property owners and business owners to create a clean, safe and inviting downtown.
 
As good as the current BIZ law is, there is some room for improvement. Senate Bill 257, which I recently introduced, will make this good law better. The measure will streamline the voting process to establish a BIZ, authorize Business Improvement Zones to merge with other Business Improvement Zones, include an enforcement mechanism for the lien of unpaid assessments and create a balance with the dissolution process.
 
The Senate overwhelmingly approved SB 257 in April, and it awaits action in the House.
 
The measure would likely result in the increased use of Business Improvement Zones as it will streamline the process for creating a zone and reduce the likelihood that a zone will be dissolved by the assessable property owners.
 
This would mean revitalized local economies across the state and an enhanced quality of living for all Michiganders.
 
Senator Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, is the chair of the Senate Economic Development Committee. He serves the residents of the 15th Senate District, representing western Oakland County.
 
Note: This column first appeared in the Spinal Column.