New tax could clean up downtown litter, panhandlers

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A proposed tax on downtown property owners aims to create programs that decrease panhandlers and clean up city streets and sidewalks. 

Downtown Indy Inc. has a petition headed Monday night to the Indianapolis City-County Council that suggests adding a new tax onto an Indianapolis property tax for businesses and residences in the central square mile of the city. It’s bordered by North, South, East and West streets would be known as the Downtown Indianapolis Mile Square Economic Improvement District. The tax would fund several projects aimed at beautifying and securing downtown. 

“People are taking notice of our decay and our growing panhandling situation and just letting it stay out there,” said Bob Schultz, vice president of marketing and communications for Downtown Indy Inc. “This is property owners taking control of their mile square.” 

Schultz said business and property owners initially came to his organization asking for solutions to a variety of problems that come with a growing city. He notes that twice as many people will reside downtown in 2020 than they did in 2010. 

“It’s cleaning up the streets, it’s cleaning up the sidewalks, it’s trash removal. Grafiti remediation, it’s pest bird mitigation,” he said. “Our downtown can’t afford to look broken. And the decay is starting.” 

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The tax would generate about $3 million per year for 10 years. Schultz explained a property valued at $1 million would pay $125 annually, and would be invested into Indianapolis’ already most invested square mile. 

“Plenty of downtown businesses keep their property beautiful, spick and span and clean, but there’s these public spaces in between. Sidewalks, Monument Circle, alleys, all of these need to be attended to,” he said. “The city never has said It’s not their role to power-wash sidewalks.  It’s their role to plow streets and fill potholes, and they’re even challenged to do that.” 

The funds would be split into four categories: safety, streetscape maintenance and beautification, downtown experience, and economic development. The majority would go toward beautification, including funding from 10 to 15 full-time maintenance ambassadors who would assist in litter removal and providing hospitality services. Other funds would go toward hiring a full-time professional project manager to coordinate homeless and panhandler outreach, increasing off-duty officer patrols, and improving street and underpass lighting. An illustrative budget also allocates for a dog park, pet waste stations and broader public WiFi options. 

To petition the City-County Council, Downtown Indy Inc. was successful in signing 51 percent of the business owners in the square mile to the measure, and guaranteeing that property owners totaling 51 percent of the square mile’s real estate value was represented. 

Many businesses 24-Hour News Eight contacted Monday said they had never heard of the tax, and some said they would be opposed to it. Residents of Indianapolis said they would appreciate the extra attention to the city’s look.  

 “We generally have a clean city, but just personally I’ve noticed that’s kind of gone downhill in the last couple years,” said Ed Hesik, who lives in the city. “If you’re a business owner, you don’t want panhandlers, trash and bad streets to be in the forefront of your business in your downtown spaces.” 

If the measure passes, all projects would be approved by a 15-member property-owner board appointed by the City-County Council. Schultz said he hopes to see the tax approved by the end of June. 

See a list of affected properties here