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VENTURA : City Won’t Assess Downtown Firms

At the request of a downtown merchant organization, the Ventura City Council on Monday decided not to levy assessments next year on 363 downtown businesses.

The assessment district--which is supposed to pay for promoting and beautifying downtown--was formed amid opposition from some merchants in November, 1991. Since then, the city has had trouble collecting the average assessment of $135 from many of the business owners.

Last year, only $48,000 of the $73,000 assessed was collected. More than 100 businesses did not pay at all, and 40 more paid only half their assessments. In March, a downtown business owner filed a lawsuit against the city, protesting the assessment district.

“The collections haven’t been as great as anticipated,” said Everett Millais, the city’s community development director.

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The Ventura Image Program, a nonprofit group of downtown merchants who spend the assessment money, recommended to the council to make next year’s assessments voluntary.

Furthermore, the city will not levy any penalties on businesses that have not paid their assessments, but will ask merchants to pay past due assessments after the pending lawsuit has been resolved.

Ventura Image Program officials said they have about $23,000 in surplus funds from last year, and want to give a break to businesses that are suffering from the recession. In the next year, the group also plans to redefine the program’s direction and goals.

But opponents of the assessment district said they wanted the council to disband the district entirely and are suspicious of the one-year break.

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