Businesses in downtown New Bedford are being asked to consider a fee that would be used to make improvements to the downtown area. Councilor-at-Large Ian Abreu says the non-profit New City America, Incorporated, based in San Deigo, California, would like to establish what it calls Community Benefit Districts in New Bedford with downtown being the first such district.

Abreu says Community Benefit Districts exist in cities all across the nation. It is similar to the Community Preservation Act that is partially supported by New Bedford property owners.

Abreu says the proposal that has been floating around for about six years now, has the support of the Mitchell Administration. Businesses would commit to paying eight cents per square foot of property that they own into the city's general fund. The money would be used to maintain current infrastructure such as Custom House Square or to fund new improvement projects within the district.

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Abreu says a panel of business owners would determine how the money would be spent out and not elected officials. At least 60 percent of business owners would have to sign on for the proposal to move to the next level. Abreu says if the program is successful downtown it can be used in business districts throughout the city.

What makes the program attractive is that businesses could fund upgrades and new projects within their own districts for a minimal contribution. With local government funds tight these days, it could be a worthwhile investment.

The New Bedford City Council is expected to conduct a hearing on the proposal later this month. It's a concept that is certainly worth listening to.

Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at barry@wbsm.com and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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