Shop owners will appear in court this week over failure to pay a Northampton town centre Business Improvement levy... but some claim keeping up payments would close them down.
The prosecution is being brought against the shops, including Northampton Health Store and Maria's Coffee and Cake in The Drapery, after they missed several months of payments of the mandatory charge.
But business people have protested that the charges are too high.
Carol Faulkner, of Northampton Health store, owes £257 to the court and has received a summons following a final demand.
She said "We really can't afford any of this. Paying it means we'll end up closing down, which is hardly in line with the aims of improving the town centre.
"Why they can't just fund these BID schemes from our collective rates, I don't know.
"As far as I can see, the BID isn't bringing more people to the town but we've all got to pay. When our units are empty, will the BID have been successful?"
The shop owners will appear before magistrates on Thursday.
Businesses in Northampton town centre voted yes to continuing as a Business Improvement District (BID) in October 2015 which means that town centre businesses with a rateable value of £5,000 and above now pay an annual levy and this funding is pooled to fund a host of projects, events and initiatives – all designed to create a positive and more profitable town centre.
This levy arrangement will generate around £1.5 million of ring fenced funding over the five year life of the BID and will also be used to lever in additional funds where possible adding a further £125,000 over the life of the BID.
Northampton Borough Council has a legal obligation, once the BID is approved, to take action against any business that fails to pay the levy.
The BID levy is 1% of a business’ rateable value, and 0.75% for those businesses inside shopping malls. Those businesses with a rateable value of £5,000 to £9,999 pay an annual levy of £100 - £75 if inside a shopping mall.
Jessica D’Aulerio, chair of Northampton Town Centre BID, said: "The principle of any BID is to deliver projects and results that would not have happened without it so everything we do as a BID relates back to the business plan that businesses voted for. All the pooled levies are spent on projects that businesses have themselves asked for and lead on.
"We feel that the levy the businesses pay is modest in relation to the benefits of being part of a BID. For the smallest business in the Business Improvement District, the daily cost is less than a first class postage stamp and even for a large business the daily cost is less than the price of a single cinema ticket.
"All businesses have an opportunity to get involved in BID working groups or can contact our BID manager or town centre Hosts to suggest projects the BID could deliver – as long as they are within the framework of the BID’s business plan.
"We welcome feedback and input from all our town centre businesses. The BID is driven by town centre businesses – who worked together to draw up a business plan, voted on it and together fund it through a levy based on business rateable values.”