At their regular session meeting on Tuesday evening, members of the Toms River Township Council officially approved the 2012 budget for the “Downtown Toms River” Business Improvement District (BID), following a brief presentation by the organization’s director.
Jody Alessandrine, first-year Executive Director of the Downtown Toms River BID, outlined spending and revenues for 2012, noting to the township council that the budget called for $358,500 in total revenue. Business taxes total $235,000, with $121,000 in revenue being generated from special events (vendor and attendee fees), and $2,500 from grants.
An equal amount of expenditures, $358,500, are also called for in the BID’s 2012 budget. Regarding individual committee expenses, $15,000 will be directed toward land use, $20,000 for economic restructuring, $72,300 in promotions, $10,000 for cultural use and $12,500 for design use.
The BID is managed by the self-funding Toms River Business Development Corporation and popularly known as Downtown Toms River. The area also serves as the county seat and hosts many county offices, including the historic 1850 Courthouse, along with the Board of Chosen Freeholders', Surrogate's, County Clerk's and Sheriff's administrative headquarters.
Alessandrine noted that that the BID’s Land Use Committee has partnered with Maser Consulting to perform a study on creation of a Redevelopment Zone, a move approved by the township council in December 2008, and said that five new businesses have joined the BID in the last four and a half months.
The executive director also listed several BID-sponsored special events taking place during the year, such as the weekly Cruisin’ Downtown car exhibitions on the second Wednesday of each month from May through September, the weekly Farmers Market every Wednesday from June to October, the 23rd annual New Jersey Chili & Salsa Cook-Off on May 19, the 10th annual New Jersey Ice Cream Festival on July 15, a new event, “Harvest Fest”, on October 20, in addition to the Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony on November 30.
Alessandrine also described the BID’s recently-initiated gift card program, which came about through a partnership with the SCORE financial group.
“It’s designed to keep as much business as local as possible,” Alessandrine said.
The executive director said that 2012 was the first year of a new shared services agreement with Toms River’s Parks, Buildings & Grounds Department, where a permanent part-time employee from that group will clean sidewalks, trash cans and perform general aesthetic maintenance in the Downtown Toms River area.
“We have already received a number of positive comments from prominent business owners on the improved appearance of our downtown. We have a great working relationship with (Parks, Buildings & Grounds) Director Craig Ambrosio and his staff,” Alessandrine noted.
During public comment, Toms River resident Dennis Galante noted that copies of the BID’s budget were not available at the meeting, and questioned why that was the case.
“I couldn’t question it even if I wanted to,” he said.
Alessandrine later briefly returned to the microphone to mention that copies of the BID’s budget presentation had previously been made available on their website.
Galante went on to say that he did not understand the BID’s business model, and “did not get” the point of their expenditures, since he didn’t see any improvements to the downtown area or new businesses coming in.
“I would like to see some type of evaluation (of the BID), to see the productivity,” he commented.
Resident Carol Benson wanted to know what the cost was to the taxpayers, and Councilman Brian Kubiel said that there was no cost, except for those who own and operate commercial business properties located in the BID.
Agreeing with Galante, Benson stated, “The budget should have been here tonight to view this evening.” Benson added that Toms River’s downtown area cannot be compared to Red Bank’s, since there were, in her opinion, no destination stores to attract shoppers.
Resident Chris Hollingsworth asked Alessandrine where the benefit was for the consumer in the gift card program, instead of just having a traditional gift certificate instead.
“It acts like a Visa card,” Alessandrine said. “In this day and age, most people would like the benefit of being able to use some type of gift card, and it acts just like a mall card.” He also explained that participation in the program for downtown businesses was optional.
Hollingsworth agreed with earlier comments made on the lack of true destination stores downtown, and questioned the practicality of the gift card system on that point — also providing her opinion that a great way to attract people to the downtown area would be to provide free parking instead, like that which she said was found in Point Pleasant.
“Give them the availability to come here. A lot of people will say, ‘I’d go down there, but there’s no free parking,' ” she said.
Council President Maurice “Mo” Hill said that he didn’t think that was the case in Point Pleasant, but Hollingsworth maintained that Point Pleasant did provide free parking to visitors.
In Toms River, free parking is available for up to four hours at a time in the upper-most section of the lot located on Irons Street, all day in the Ocean County parking garage located on Hooper Avenue and in the Sovereign Bank lot during specified hours.
Elsewhere, metered parking is enforced from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, except for Sundays and holidays, on the streets and other areas designated as paid lots.
The governing body then unanimously approved the budget, minus council members Maria Maruca and John Sevastakis, who were both absent from the meeting.