Town OKs extension of business incentive program with changes

STRASBURG — The Strasburg Town Council has passed an extension of incentives for downtown businesses.

During the Town Council meeting on Tuesday, council members agreed in a 6-2 vote to extend its arts and tourism district, which comes with reduced water and sewer rates and eliminates business licensing fees for downtown businesses and arts organizations.

Mayor Rich Orndorff described the plan as an incentive to get businesses to move downtown.

“At least one of our breweries is located in the district because of the incentive,” Orndorff said during the meeting. “So the incentive at least worked to fill one very, very large building.”

But two council members — Jocelyn Vena and Kim Bishop — questioned the efficacy of the program during Tuesday’s meeting.

Vena said during the meeting that she was especially concerned about reducing water and sewer rates for businesses since citizens have expressed concerns about high water rates within the town.

“I don’t go along with the reduction of water and sewer,” Vena said. “I don’t see the benefit of that in regards of economic development, of bringing jobs to town.”

Under the extension passed on Tuesday, the reduced water and sewer rates also only apply to businesses that spend at least $25,000 in capital investments. All arts and tourism businesses in the downtown arts and tourism district will continue to be eligible to receive an exemption to their business licensing fees.

The reduction in the water and sewer rates for those arts and tourism businesses in the downtown district that spend $25,000 in capital investments will drop to 35 percent.

Previously, all arts- and tourism-related businesses within the town’s downtown arts and tourism district were eligible to receive a 50 percent reduction in their water and sewer rates for the first 10,000 gallons of usage each month.

After that, the businesses could receive a 35 percent reduction in their rates.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Bishop and Vena pushed back against that change, with Bishop saying that the business incentives “should be fair across the board.”

Councilman Seth Newman, who voted with five members in favor of the extension, defended the change, saying that it rewarded businesses that made improvements to Strasburg’s downtown.

“(If) you’re going to step up and invest in the town with upfront costs, then the town’s going to invest in you,” Newman said.

Businesses can only receive the reduced water rates and the exempted licensing fees for a five-year period.

The town’s decision comes five years after the town first implemented its arts and tourism district. The council decided during its Tuesday meeting to look at the incentive program again in another 4 1/2 years.

But while Town Council members favored the plan, the town still needs to write official language for the changes to the incentive program, since the program is part of the town’s code.

Town Manager Wyatt Pearson said that will require a public hearing but that it will not take long for the town to approve the official changes in the code.

Correction: This article has been corrected to clarify that the 35 percent reduction in water and sewer rates applies only to arts and tourism businesses in the downtown district that spend at least $25,000 in capital investments.