Germantown Special Services District ‘should be ready to rock and roll in the fall’

Finding the best approach to get the revamped Germantown Special Services District up and running was the focus of a meeting which brought area merchants together with city and elected officials on Thursday night.

Without funding, the GSSD cannot hire staff or collect assessment from participating merchants and since it is a municipal authority, it cannot apply for grants.

Temporary, then permanent

As such, Sylvie Gallier Howard, the city’s assistant commerce director, said a “working” board will be implemented over the summer.

That temporary board will set out to find seed money for the GSSD to hire staff and begin the tasks of removing litter and graffiti, restoring trash cans and ensuring safety for visitors and residents.

She envisioned a more permanent GSSD in September. So did Eighth District Councilwoman Cindy Bass, whose office originally projected a July start.

Bass said on Thursday that a “great slate” of board members is selected. They will be presented via ordinance to City Council by month’s end.

“We should be ready to rock and roll in the fall,” Bass said at the meeting which was held at Treasures on the Avenue.

Cooperative effort

State Rep. Stephen Kinsey, whose office organized the meeting, said that he envisions a marketing strategy that would bolster existing businesses and raise funds, be they for the GSSD or interim cleaning services along the commercial corridor.

However, some residents voiced concerns at the meeting. They suggested that the newest manifestation would suffer from similar funding and staffing issues that were associated with the former GSSD.

Kinsey urged residents, businesses and elected officials to work together.

“When we want to make a change, we have to do it in unison,” he said. “We can do it collectively if we have the same vision.”

In addition, Howard said that the new GSSD would have a “commitment to transparency.”

“We heard that people wanted to know where those dollars are going,” she said. “The GSSD is required to disclose that and will be very, very careful with those dollars.”

Bass spoke to the need for a shared effort.

“It really will speak so much to the survival of Germantown,” she said, “not just as a place where people want to shop, but where people want to live.”

The back story

The GSSD began in 1995 with a paid staff, including a group of street cleaners akin to the Center City District. By December 2011, when city funding for the public-private enterprise zeroed out, the program was discontinued.

The new effort is to revive the GSSD is being spearheaded by Bass, whose district includes Germantown.

The district would focus on commercial properties fronting on Germantown Avenue between Coulter and High streets, Chelten between Baynton and Morris, along with Maplewood Mall, Market Square and sections of Greene Street and Wayne, Pulaski and Maplewood avenues.

The initial draft budget proposal anticipated billing $178,176 in assessments, with the assessment rate for businesses being roughly 12 percent of the property’s tax bill.

Expenses included $78,913 for cleaning and maintenance, $50,000 for salary and benefits to a yet-to-be-hired district manager, and nearly $3,000 for communications and marketing.

“The business community, supporting [and] strengthening it, is the number one priority for [Kinsey] and myself,” said Bass. “It’s critical that we have jobs, that we have opportunities and that we have a lively business corridor.”

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