Role of the municipality

The municipality typically plays a key role in the following areas:

  • leadership and commitment by council
  • staff assistance to business leaders in organizing meetings and promotion in the initial conceptualization stages
  • council approval is required to establish a BIA
  • Public consultation process – petition/objections
  • council representative on the board of management
  • approval of annual budget, and financial monitoring

General support

Leadership and commitment of local political leaders has been an essential part of BIA success stories across North America. A BIA board of management and the municipal council and staff work together to achieve their common goal for a strong and vibrant business community.

The municipality can contribute to the BIA in many ways, including:

  • encouraging local business leaders to get started and participating on an ongoing basis
  • providing a supportive growth management and development strategy
  • providing financial and technical resource assistance
  • instituting public improvements
  • providing encouragement and support to BIAs and their staff
  • raising awareness of BIAs among municipal staff and the public at large

Initiation and participation

Getting started is the first major challenge to setting up a BIA. Initially, interest and effort from local business leaders are key.  However, council and municipal staff can play a significant role in helping a BIA to get off the ground.  They can provide a venue for local business leaders to get together to discuss possible strategies for revitalizing their local community. A councillor, committee of council, or professional staff members are often assigned to help organize initial BIA meetings and to provide preliminary leadership if necessary. Municipal staff and council can help motivate residents and local business leaders to get organized and take action. Once a traditional BIA is established, council appoints members to the board of management.

Establishing the board of management

The board of management of a BIA is typically composed of one or more directors appointed directly by the municipality, with the remaining directors selected by a vote of the membership of the improvement area and then formally appointed by the municipality. In many cases, the council member representing the area in which the BIA is located is appointed to the board.

Once a traditional BIA is established, council appoints members to the board of management. In most cases, the BIA presents a list of nominees to their general membership for a vote prior to submitting these nominees for council approval. This practice helps ensure that the general membership is consulted on the board’s composition.

Council participation can have immediate and direct benefits for the BIA. Appointing a councillor to the board of management, and the direct involvement of the council in appointing other board members, provides a measure of authority and credibility to the BIA. This allows for joint planning between the BIA and the council that can maximize the effective use of the BIA budget. Finally, the direct link with and support from council increases the potential for the BIA to secure assistance both from the municipality and from other levels of government.

The council representative on the board of management may play an important communications role by keeping council informed of activities undertaken by the BIA. Generally, this will be the local councillor for the area but, in all cases, the goal is to appoint an individual who is willing to commit time and energy to improving and maintaining the area.

In turn, BIAs often view the council representative’s role as keeping the BIA informed of pertinent council matters. For example, the councillor may inform the board of meetings that should be attended, when issues of concern will be dealt with by committees or council as a whole, and how to get the most out of its relationship with the municipality and council.

In Toronto, the practice is that boards of management include one or more members of City Council. Chapter 19 of the Toronto Municipal Code (Business Improvement Areas) includes a listing of the total number of members of the named Business Improvement Areas, how many councillors are members of each, and the number of members required for a quorum.

Specific roles of municipal council

In addition to providing an atmosphere conducive to economic and business development and providing general support for BIAs, the municipal council usually has several important official roles with respect to a BIA.

The following sections are an overview of those roles. They summarize some of the formal steps for a municipality in creating a traditional BIA.


Before passing a bylaw to establish a BIA, a municipality would mail out notices of the proposed bylaw.

Generally, for a new BIA, the notices would go to assessed prescribed business property owners in the proposed area (i.e., owners of property classed as industrial or commercial).

Property owners who receive a notice would give their tenants a copy of the notice within 30 days of the day the notice was mailed. Those owners would also give the clerk of the municipality a list of every tenant and the share of taxes that each tenant is required to pay and the share that the owner is required to pay.


A municipal bylaw formally creates a traditional BIA. Bylaws are also used to implement other significant BIA decisions. These include expanding the BIA boundaries and establishing maximum, minimum, and special benefit charges.

Registering objections

Some traditional BIA proposed bylaws can be blocked through an objections process. For example, a council may not be able to pass a bylaw establishing a traditional BIA if the clerk of the municipality receives written objections meeting certain conditions.  Generally, these are that:

  • the objections would have to be received within 60 days after the last day of mailing of the notices
  • objections would have to be signed by at least one-third of the persons entitled to notice of the proposed bylaw
  • the objectors would have to be responsible for at least one-third of the general local municipality levy on the prescribed classes (i.e., industrial and commercial properties) in the proposed BIA area.

The municipal clerk determines if the conditions applicable to objections to a BIA bylaw are met.

Financial monitoring

A traditional BIA board of management prepares a proposed annual budget, reflecting the priorities and needs of the BIA as determined by the board and membership. The board holds one or more meetings of its members for discussion of proposed budgets. Budgets are submitted to council for approval. The budget is usually financed by BIA levies that are collected by the municipality. Funds are then disbursed by the municipality to the board.

In addition, municipal auditors audit the financial accounts of BIAs, and decide about inspecting relevant documents held by the board.

Altering boundaries

On occasion, property owners and businesses beyond the borders of a BIA request inclusion. In other instances, these property owners and businesses can be considered to be a natural extension or growth of a pre-existing BIA community and they may be invited to join the BIA.

By the same measure, parts of a BIA may no longer feel an affinity towards their BIA. In these cases, the BIA may want to alter its boundaries.

There is a mechanism for changing the boundaries of a traditional BIA. Before it passes a bylaw to change BIA boundaries, a municipality would mail out notices to members in the original area and potential members in an expanded area (if there is one). New and potential members may object.

Similarly to when a BIA is created, for a traditional BIA, a municipal council may not be able to pass a proposed BIA boundary change bylaw, if the clerk of the municipality receives written objections to the bylaw meeting certain conditions. (These conditions are outlined in the previous section entitled Registering Objections). The municipal clerk determines if the conditions applicable to objections to a BIA bylaw are met.

As an alternative to formally adjusting the boundaries, some BIAs have developed associate memberships for businesses that are not located within the BIA boundaries. In practice, BIA levies are not charged on an associated member outside the BIA boundary, and their fees are voluntary.

For information concerning the above topics, sections 204-215 of the Municipal Act, 2001 may be among those of interest (particularly the sections concerning creating or changing BIAs, and section 210 which deals with procedures).

In the City of Toronto, the Toronto Municipal Code, Chapter 19 has sections concerning changes to BIA boundaries, and objections and consents to those changes.

When a municipality expands or redefines the boundaries of a BIA, the board of management for the area would usually continue as the board of management for the altered area. It is often prudent to seek board representatives from the new area in the case of a BIA expansion.