Non-Profits - Part 1: Business Improvement Districts

In general, non-profit corporations are not subject to OPRA.  However, there are several important exceptions to this general rule.  In this series, we will discuss several categories of non-profits that are or may be subject to OPRA.  In this post, we discuss business improvement districts, which are subject to OPRA.

Municipalities may create within their borders a business improvement district (“BID”), which is also sometimes called a special improvement district.  When a municipality creates a BID, it designates a geographical district, usually within a neighborhood where commercial and retail businesses are concentrated.  The property owners within this district must pay an annual special assessment.  The municipality also forms a non-profit, which may or may not have the words “improvement district” in it, which receives the annual assessment and organizes events and projects that are intended to promote the municipality’s downtown businesses.

Because the BID is a non-profit, it is not subject to many laws that ordinarily apply to municipalities, such as public contracting laws.  However, BIDs are subject to OPRA (and the Open Public Meetings Act, as well).  BIDs are created by municipalities and receive assessments collected from property owners.  Although BIDs might derive income from other activities, such as revenue from events or receipt of grants, their main source of dedicated revenue is taxpayer funds.  Their annual budgets must be approved by their municipality.  They may perform traditional functions of municipal government, such as beautification or litter removal.

From a perspective of access, BIDs present several challenges for both the BID and the public.  The public may not understand that BIDs are subject to OPRA.  The management corporations have names that include phrases like “business partnership” or “alliance,” so the public may not intuitively understand these entities are subject to OPRA.  Also, unlike municipalities, whose clerks receive training in how to comply with OPRA, in the experience of the author a BID’s staff may sometimes lack the training or experience in responding to OPRA requests.

Because BIDs spend public money in ways that can be less transparent than the municipalities that created them, oversight through OPRA is important.  Cohn Lifland can help you determine whether your municipality has a BID and enforce OPRA requests directed to them.