TOWN centre businesses in Southend will go to the polls to decide whether they want to bump up their taxes to pay for improvements.
Council bosses cleared the way for the creation of a business improvement district in the High Street, seafront and nearby roads.
If more than half the businesses included in the proposed district vote for the move, a levy worth £500,000 a year will be brought in to bankroll a series of projects.
Among the project ideas are more marketing, more trees and flowerbeds, and a cohort of “town centre ambassadors” with limited police powers.
More Christmas lights displays in roads off the High Street, a loyalty card scheme and a part-time night manager to work with nightclub and pub owners are also being mooted.
The idea is the brainchild of Southend Town Centre Partner-ship, an action group funded by traders.
Chairman Dawn Jeakings said: “I cannot stress enough how important it is all the businesses involved take the time to find out more about the district and cast their vote.
“This is an exciting opportunity to have direct input into the future of our town and do something to really make a difference.
“Despite the ongoing financial recovery, Southend becoming a business improvement district could mean the difference between success and failure for many businesses.”
Ms Jeakings stressed all decisions would be in the hands of the businesses, if they voted to set up the district.
The idea was rubber-stamped by Southend Council’s Tory leadership at its cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
If the plan is approved by the businesses, an extra 1.5 per cent levy would be placed on each firm’s annual business rates until 2016.
The tax would be applied regardless of how each business voted, although only those included in the area covered by the district would have to pay.
A not-for-profit company would be set up to spend the money, estimated to total about £2.5million over the five years, alongside the council.
The idea already has the backing of several prominent figures, including entrepreneur Philip Miller, whose businesses include Adventure Island and SeaLife Adventure.
Leigh Norris, Essex Police’s Southend central inspector, said: “Business improvement districts in other areas have successfully assisted the police to reduce criminal damage and antisocial behaviour, with the introduction of street wardens and crime initiative schemes.
“This can only improve the negative perceptions and promote the town centre as a safe place to visit.”