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Future Shaky - Business Improvement District Fate Uncertain

POSTED January 24, 2012 10:24 p.m.

The fate of Oakdale’s Business Improvement District is still unknown after the Oakdale City Council decided to delay its decision on the BID for one month. The council spent over 45 minutes discussing the BID and hearing public comment on the question of possible wrongdoing before deciding to hold off making a decision on the issue until a future meeting. The business owners involved in the BID were asked to sign a letter of support of the organization, and council will re-visit the discussion at a future meeting.
“They have the possibility of doing great things, but we have to refine this process…This council has more important things to do than babysit the BID,” said councilmember Tom Dunlop.
The question of whether or not to disband the Oakdale Tourism and Business Improvement District comes four months after the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce, former acting manager of BID funds, resigned from the BID. The Oakdale City Council must now decide whether to appoint a new manager of the BID funds or disband the district altogether.
The Oakdale Business Improvement District was established by city ordinance in June 2008. The purpose of the Oakdale Tourism and Business Improvement District, according to the founding resolution, was threefold. The BID was intended to promote tourism, market conventions, trade shows and sporting events that benefit local tourism and the lodging industry, and market the Business Improvement District to the travel industry.
An assessment of 2 percent of each occupied hotel/motel room in Oakdale was levied against hotel owners within the district. One hundred percent of those funds were transferred to the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce to carry out an annual business plan. The plan was to specify the activities, programs, expenses and services to be provided and the amount of assessment necessary to carry out the business plan, according to Oakdale City Council Resolution 2008-91.
On Sept. 21, 2011, the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce submitted a letter of resignation to the Business Improvement District Board.
That letter read, in part, “…the recent time demands being placed on Chamber staff in serving on the BID Advisory Board have escalated to the point of being detrimental to the many other income programs, benefits and events the Chamber provides to its members. The chamber’s Boards, both the Executive and General Boards, believe that cannot continue.”
The resignation letter was signed by Doug Heath, then-president of the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce.
The Oakdale City Council decided to review BID funds and expenses before deciding whether or not to appoint a new manager for BID funds. The Oakdale Chamber of Commerce was asked to submit a detailed general ledger of BID expenses for every fiscal year since the BID’s foundation. That request, and the following response, prompted Oakdale City Council to consider doing away with the Tourism and Business Improvement District.
In response to the city’s request, the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce submitted an income and expenses report from July 2008 until the day the Chamber resigned from the BID Advisory Board. The list is itemized and shows general expenses and revenues from each fiscal year. Also included is a hand-written note that the city currently holds $29,736.03 in BID funds. City council members requested a more detailed accounting. The Chamber of Commerce submitted a letter to the council in response.
“The Chamber has provided the City and others with an Income/Expense report for 2010/2011, that’s all there is. The “detailed” accounting of expenses you keep requesting was not a condition of the ordinance or any contractual agreement the Chamber was under. If such accounting was required or needed by the City, it should of said so early on, it was not,” the letter, which was signed by Mary Guardiola, CEO of the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce, noted.
Guardiola said that she, acting on behalf of the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce, gave the required annual business plan and report to the Oakdale City Council. The council accepted those plans by resolution in July 2009 and August 2010.
“That was our fault and our oversight for not asking for more detail…but that does not excuse the chamber for not doing their due diligence,” said councilmember Mike Brennan.
Both Brennan and Dunlop expressed a desire to remove the City of Oakdale from any oversight of the BID at the Jan. 17 council session. The city currently collects the 2 percent hotel assessment along with its own 7 percent Transient Occupancy Tax. Brennan suggested that the BID Advisory Board collect their own assessment, manage their own money, and leave the city out of things.
BID founding member Has Panchal asked the Oakdale City Council to leave the BID intact and allow it to move forward.
“We promise you as a BID committee that we will keep the accounting system very well, we will promote Oakdale, we will bring more tourism in this town, and we will try to increase the economy of Oakdale,” Panchal said.
The council requested that the current members of the BID Advisory Board, along with all four hotel owners, submit a letter in support of keeping the BID. The council will review the Oakdale Tourism and Business Improvement District’s status in one month.

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