2013-03-21 / Front Page

County shuns DDA proposal

Asks for funds to support projects

MANISTIQUE – The Downtown Development Authority is looking, but not finding support from the Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners. The board recently answered the DDA’s presentation about the need to extend the Authority past its set expiration in 2018 with a request of their own.

According to Rick Demers, DDA chairperson, the DDA formed a TIF (tax increment financing) plan for its city and county boundaries in 1988. This plan outlined projects and goals the DDA had in order to improve the area within its boundaries.

Since the DDA was only established for a period of 30 years – it is set to expire in 2018 – its members have been looking to amend the original plan and extend the Authority’s life. The extension is needed, Demers explained, in order to complete projects – primarily a $4 million renovation to the city’s marina.

“The city can’t bond beyond the existence of the authority,” he said. “So, in order to complete that project, we’ve taken steps to amend our plan to include that project along with two land acquisition grants and the possibility of a campground in the city of Manistique, along with a marketing plan that we think will benefit the county as a whole.”

Half of the funding for the marina project will come from a grant the Authority received from the Michigan State Waterways Commission. The rest will come as a match from the DDA, via a bond. In order to obtain the bond, since it will have to be spread over a number of years, the Authority created the TIF amendments to extend its life another 30 years from 2013.

“We feel that this is a very necessary step to get done,” he said. “If you have been down there, you realize it needs to be addressed – it’s (the marina) literally falling into the river, the bin walls are shot … our fuel station doesn’t comply. I hate to imagine how we would try to fund this without taking this kind of action now.”

In order to move the amendments forward, the DDA began in January with the establishment of the Development Area Citizen’s Council, which was formed to assess the original TIF plan and also review the new draft plan. The new plan, with the amendments, was passed by the DDA Tuesday and will now move forward, along with a resolution of support, for city council approval. The county’s approval is not needed in order for the DDA to extend.

According to Demers, the recent presentation at the board meeting was given to make the members and public more aware of what the DDA does and its future plans. He noted that the DDA has spent the last 25 years completing or participating in projects within its boundaries totaling nearly $6.5 million, including the construction of the boardwalk, various street projects, the construction of Triangle and Five Points Park, the placement and maintenance of lighting downtown, as well as the first phase of the marina dredging.

“Those areas that were focused on did represent about 80-85 percent of our total tax capture – that’s why we focused on those,” he said.

The city and county collect the 1988 value of properties within the DDA district, while the Authority captures whatever increase has occurred since that time, along with any new construction. This amounts to just over $500,000 per year.

“A lot of the projects the DDA has done have benefitted, not only county residents, but city residents and tourists,” City Manager and DDA member Sheila Aldrich said during the presentation. “The stuff that we do is a benefit for everyone and it certainly attracts people to the area.”

She noted that the key features of the area, such as the flags flying outside the marina and the boardwalk were just some of the DDA projects that draw people to the area. While drawn to the area by what they see in the district, they usually build homes outside of it, therefore contributing to the amount the county collects from taxable values, she said.

The upcoming DDA projects will further entice visitors, Aldrich said, especially the plan for a nonmotorized walking path. The DDA recently applied for three land acquisition grants to obtain the property needed to construct the path.

“That’s what it (the DDA) is – to prevent deterioration in your downtown, and I certainly feel like the have done a stupendous job in that,” she said.

Aldrich noted the marina projects will have an immediate impact on the area, as a Great Lake’s cruise ship will come in two times in August. Without the repairs, the ship will not be able to enter or dock at the marina.

“The 138 passengers that get off that boat, plus the 40 crew (members) – that’s just more exposure that we have to our area,” she said.

While the DDA is looking to the future Board Chairperson Al Grimm explained he has “mixed feelings” about the DDA’s extension.

“We have so many issues to take care of here in the county,” he said. “I understand all the good you folks have done – the TIF concept, it’s a valuable redevelopment tool … but due to increasing economic challenges, we believe the DDA should not be planning additional enhancements.”

He also noted the DDA should no longer capture a portion of the money residents voted to go toward millages such as the Manistique Senior Center millage and Schoolcraft County Transit.

“We are making a formal request for a tax-sharing agreement with the Manistique DDA,” he said.

In the agreement, Grimm explained the county is requesting funding from the DDA to make repairs and improvements such as a new roof for both the Schoolcraft County Courthouse and Jail, a new telephone system, structural upgrades at the courthouse, jail and airport, and technology updates.

“Since the purpose of the DDA is what it is, the Authority should completely understand the county’s request for a tax-sharing agreement,” he said. “Our plan is intended to halt property value deterioration and eliminate the cause of it, increase property tax valuation and keep county property safe for the community as a whole.”

Demers explained that the DDA is using their funding to ensure the city and county have a future by attracting more people and businesses to the area. He also noted that since the city will be obligating itself to the $2 million grant match, it would be “financially irresponsible” of the DDA to limit their tax capture and siphon funds to the county.

“I shudder to think that if the DDA did not exist, these dollars would be sucked up elsewhere, lights wouldn’t stay on, light poles wouldn’t get painted, the boardwalk would be nonexistent, and we would just regress to the point where it would be a shame,” he said.

During the public comment portion of the meeting Thursday, multiple residents spoke in favor of the DDA and its requested extension.

“The only … way this community can survive is if we increase our tourism or our retirement here,” said Schoolcraft County Chamber of Commerce Director Connie Diller. “If we don’t have our tourists coming here, this community is going to shrivel up and die … if we do not support things like the DDA, then this community is going to be in a lot more trouble than it is now.”

Sault Tribe Strategic Alliance for Health Director Kerry Ott also expressed her support of the DDA.

“You cannot just look at the money in your pocket,” she said. “You cannot let this community die; if Manistique dies, Schoolcraft County dies.”

During Tuesday’s meeting of the board, the commissioners voted to unanimously support sending a letter detailing their request for tax-sharing to the DDA.

The DDA approved its amendments and resolution for support to send to the city on Tuesday. In an upcoming meeting the city will either deny or approve the Authority’s request. If approved, a public hearing will be held on the amendments in April. St. Francis de Sales held its annual spring carnival Sunday. Cash Raffle winners included: $3,000, Fr. Glenn Theoret; Amy Gould, $1,000; Barb Hinkson, $500. Wade Brow won the 50/50 raffle of $583. Brenden McCaffrey won the eighth grade change jar fundraiser with his guess of $111.11. There was $111.65 in the jar. At left, a group of boys participates in a table game. At right, Shriner Clowns, from Ishpeming, tie balloon animals for children.

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