Kingston mayor wants to end tax on uptown businesses for canopy upkeep

(Photo by Will Dendis)

Mayor Steve Noble wants the Common Council to approve his plan to eliminate a special tax on owners of property abutting the Pike Plan canopy, and dissolve a commission that oversees upkeep of the structure.

If approved, the mayor’s proposal would shift about $9,500 in annual payments from the Pike Plan property owners to the city’s tax base at large.

“The Pike Plan tax was put on [the property owners] kind of unfairly,” said Noble last week. “It’s public infrastructure and it’s easily within the means of the city budget to absorb those costs.”

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The Pike Plan — named for its designer, architect John Pike — was conceived and built in the mid-70s when Kingston’s Uptown Business District was struggling to compete with new indoor shopping centers outside of city limits. The system of porticos covers sidewalks along Wall and North Front Streets in the heart of the Stockade District. Since its inception, upkeep and maintenance costs of the Pike Plan has been paid by property owners via a special assessment based on how much of their property’s frontage is covered by the portico. Costs included electricity for the canopy’s lighting and sound system, sidewalk cleaning and an occasional fresh coat of paint.

But those costs rose in 2006 when the Pike Plan commission voted to authorize a $100,000 bond to pay for a feasibility study and design work for a major overhaul. The bond, and the subsequent redesign effort funded by $1.4 million in state and federal grants, sparked controversy among many Pike Plan property owners. At the time the bond was authorized, the commission was controlled by appointees of then-mayor James Sottile. (The makeup of the commission has since been revamped to give Pike Plan property owners a controlling stake). Meanwhile a significant number, if not an outright majority, of property owners on the hook for the payments opposed the refurbishment project and pushed to have the decrepit portico torn down instead.

The renovation project in 2011 was beset by delays and other problems. More than a decade after the first bond was approved, the city remains mired in litigation over flaws in design and workmanship that many property owners say made drainage and other issues with the original canopy even worse.

Under Sottile’s successor, former mayor Shayne Gallo, the city took over maintenance and electricity costs for the Pike Plan. But the city continued to levy the special assessment on property owners to pay down the 2006 bond. The impacted property owners collectively paid $9,851 in 2015 and $9,321 last year. As of now, $49,000 remains on the bond. Noble said that the city would assume the remainder of the bond.

“I have no idea why that $100,000 bond was ever levied in the first place,” said Noble. “But I think the city has a responsibility to pay it off.”

Noble’s proposal also calls for eliminating the Pike Plan Commission. With the refurbishment plan complete and the city taking over the last costs associated with the canopy, the commission was no longer necessary, said the mayor. Noble added that the Kingston Uptown Business Association had emerged in recent years as a strong voice for Uptown merchants and property owners, including those with Pike Plan properties.

“The need for a Pike Plan commission has dwindled,” said Noble. “We can barely get people to show up to the meetings, much less serve on it.”

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