DDA hearing draws crowd
MANISTIQUE – More than 35 residents piled into Manistique City Hall on Monday for the public hearing on the Downtown Development Authority TIF (tax increment financing) plan amendment. While city council members took no action on the amendment, the hearing allowed residents a chance to comment and express any concerns or support for the Authority’s plan.
During the meeting, Al Grimm, chairperson of the Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners, was the first to speak up, voicing his opposition to the amount the DDA collects in taxes.
“It was a very good idea in 1988,” he said.
Grimm noted that he questions the DDA’s planned projects, including the marina renovation, the money the DDA brings in, as well as the money it intends to use for marketing the area. He added that he would like to see the Authority enter a tax sharing agreement with the county.
Rick Demers, chairman of the DDA, said that the Authority did take the county’s recent letter requesting a tax sharing agreement under consideration, but that the DDA does not want to burden itself financially. As part of an upcoming $4 million marina renovation, the DDA will bond for approximately $2 million of that – obligating the Authority to a payment for a number of years.
Manistique resident Paul Walker spoke in favor of the DDA, noting the potential projects would help the area to grow.
“We have an unemployment rate of 12.9 percent; we really must facilitate a good quality of life for people who want to come here, bring their families here, bring work here,” he said.
Georganne Verigan, a local business owner, noted that many of the people she encounters frequently mention how much they enjoy the are and how accessible it is.
“The so-called non-critcal projects of the DDA, such as the boardwalk and walking paths, are actually critical to the quality of life of many people,” she said. “Those projects draw and attract tourism, business, and help keep our town alive.”
County commissioner Jerry Zellar mentioned the proposed tax sharing agreement between the DDA and the county – adding the county’s needs must come before DDA projects. He also noted that numerous area millages would have a difficult time passing if people knew a portion of the money was going to the DDA.
“I agree these things are beautiful and they’re assets and people rave about Manistique whenever I go somewhere,” he said. “We’re struggling at the county, and a lot of tax dollars are captured (by the DDA), and I’d like to see the common man benefit.”
John Walker, another area resident, spoke in favor of the DDA.
“I’m old enough to know that you have to pay for what you get; it’s easy to put on paper what it costs … but I learned something when I traveled,” he said. “In the U.P., businesses basically survive on two months a year … the other ten months, they hope to pay the light bills and the mortgages and stuff. So, everything the DDA does to bring tourists to this town helps these businesses to survive.
I think it’s so important to stand behind these people that are trying to improve our town,” he added.
County Equalization Director Paul Wood, spoke out against the DDA, declaring that while no one questions the good intentions of the DDA, they do question the size and scope. He questioned the DDA projects and why there was not a list of projects for the next 30 years available.
“I like the boardwalk, I like the marina. But, you know what? We need a jail that doesn’t have a leaky roof,” he said. “You know how costs have gone up. We’ve had huge overruns at the county.”
Wood also noted that the DDA is expected to collect an estimated $31 million over the next 30 years, a figure distributed in a recent open letter to residents from the county commissioners.
Mayor Dave Peterson, in response to Wood’s statements, said the $31 million figure was based on the assumption that the properties within the DDA district would increase in value 5 percent each year for 30 years.
“That $31 million … is only an estimate if property values increase at 5 percent per year for the next 30 years,” he said. “I think we all realize that that’s a pretty high estimate.”
During a recent meeting of the Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners, Wood presented the 2013 County Equalization Report – outlining valuations placed on all real and personal ad valorem property in the county.
“The valuations in the county actually dropped about 2.83 percent – some $13 million,” Wood said during that April 11 meeting. “You’d think we hit the bottom by now – apparently we have not.”
In Monday’s meeting, Peterson also noted that 75 percent of the DDA funding comes from the people and businesses within the DDA district – no townships contribute to the Authority. He explained that the county is still getting money from property’s within the DDA district, they just collect what the value of that property was in 1988, when the DDA formed. The DDA only collects the increase in property values within its district since 1988 and uses that money to fund its projects.
“All of these city taxes, all of them, are from city residents’ and city businesses’ tax bills only,” City Manager Sheila Aldrich explained. “All city residents pay a county tax – the county residents do not pay a city tax. What the DDA collects on is in the city, in the DDA district.”
Near the end of the meeting, Grimm mentioned the DDA considering a different proposal from the county, such as a limited tax sharing agreement – for example, $100,000 per year for four years.
Demers noted the DDA recently had to bond for approximately $600,000 to create Veteran’s Drive, and that the county, if they need funding, should consider bonding for its list of $400,000 in projects.
The Manistique City Council will vote on the DDA TIF plan amendment at its May 6 meeting.