Saturday’s Upstairs/Downstairs Tour in downtown Three Rivers was hailed a success by event organizers and participants.
A total of seven second-floor residences above downtown businesses were open to the public. Danielle Moreland, a member of the Three Rivers Downtown Development Authority and a key figure in organizing the three-hour event, said it appears more than 100 people took advantage of the rare opportunity to get a look at what it’s like to live downtown.
The walking tour, which cost $10 per person or $15 per couple, was staged as a fundraiser for the downtown merchants to continue offering free events throughout the year.
Four buildings in the Three Rivers downtown district are in line to share a $200,000 grant for facade improvements, Downtown Development Authority Director Christy Trammell reported last week.
Trammell said the upgrades will include new doors and windows and other exterior improvements, thanks to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation grant.
The buildings are at 15, 17 and 51 N. Main Street, and 132 W. Michigan Ave. Property owners who will benefit from the grant have agreed to cover a 25 percent contribution, as stipulated in the grant application.
The Three Rivers Downtown Development Authority is taking legal action to recover costs associated with roofline lights that have proven to be inoperable.
DDA members on Friday decided to pursue the matter with Lightastic, the company that sold the Christmas-style lights to the DDA. The lights were found to be not meant for permanent display, and improper wiring was used. The DDA has incurred a cost for an electrician to rectify the problems and attorney Mike O’Connor was directed to pursue the cost plus legal fees from Lightastic.
The $20,000 lights were purchased by what was then known as First National Bank.
The Three Rivers Downtown Development Authority (DDA) has taken a compromise approach to levying millage on properties in the DDA district.
In action during a special meeting Tuesday morning (April 27th), the DDA Board voted to recommend to the Three Rivers City Commission that one mill be levied throughout the entire DDA district – both the original district in the immediate downtown and in areas along South Main Street and West Michigan Avenue that were added when the district was expanded in 2002. City Manager Joe Bippus abstained after Tom Meyer expressed concern that, because of his close association with the commission, Bippus’s vote could influence them to vote one way or the other.
In a subsequent action, the board also adopted a proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year that incorporates the one-mill levy in the entire DDA district. The budget will be recommended to the city commission for approval in the process to adopt the city’s overall budget for Fiscal Year 2011 that begins July 1st.
The millage and budget decisions came in response to indications from state officials at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), State Tax Commission and the Treasury Department that a uniform millage rate throughout the entire district is required under the Michigan Constitution and the act governing DDAs.
Michael O’Connor, an attorney retained by the DDA to deal with the millage issue, said the group “went to a variety of sources to get an interpretation of the statute and the interpretation is consistent.” He added, “I think you’ve done all that’s necessary.”
During a post-meeting interview, O’Connor said, “It is clear that the millage is supposed to be uniform and a good rationale for it is that the DDA was created to address all kinds of economic issues in the entire district and this millage funds the DDA for that purpose so it only seems – from a practical point of view – fair that everyone within the district who benefits from the DDA, either directly or indirectly, should pay the tax, and our constitution and the DDA act make that clear – that taxes, when imposed upon a group, should be imposed uniformly rather than otherwise.”
Bippus said, “I’m satisfied we have the right opinion. We know what the rules are. We know what the law is. I’m very comfortable where we’re at.”
DDA Chairperson Donna Grubbs agreed and said, “I think we’ve got a multitude of different people we’ve asked and they’ve all had the same consensus and it boils down to we just have to equalize this taxation.”
A public hearing during the DDA’s regular monthly meeting on April 15th yielded a variety of opinions on the millage issue, including several calls to dissolve the expanded district, and prompted the board to table the matter pending the receipt of further information from the state.
Meyer said the board needed to “take seriously” the objections about the millage during the hearing and suggested the one-mill compromise that was characterized by Grubbs as “revenue neutral.” Property owners in the original district have paid two mills for many years while no millage has been levied in the expansion area.
Regarding the one-mill approach, Meyer said, “I think we can squeeze by for a year and see how it looks and revisit it again next year, leaving the option open to kick it up if we need the additional money.”
DDA Executive Director Christy Trammell provided board members with a handout outlining “DDA Benefits.”
The Three Rivers Downtown Development Authority (DDA) has deferred action on applying a tax levy on the entire area now included in the DDA district – the original district and areas along South Main Street and West Michigan Avenue that were added in 2002.
During its April meeting Thursday morning (April 15th), the DDA Board unanimously approved a motion to table a proposal for a budget calling for a levy of 1.9167 mills on the entire district. The motion also mentioned “taking on the same budget” used during the last year “until the time that we are confident that the legal advice we have gotten is correct and then we can move forward and make a decision on that.”
The “legal advice” is an opinion from Michael O’Connor, an attorney retained by the DDA to address the taxation-within-the-DDA-district issue. According to City Attorney Pat O’Malley in a verbal report at the outset of the meeting, O’Connor has concluded that equal taxation throughout the district is required. O’Malley said he thinks that O’Connor “has made a careful study of this” and said that, after a review of his opinion, “I don’t find any fault with that.” O’Malley added, “So now, knowing that, I think this board has an obligation to say, ‘We’re going to do what appears to be the right and proper thing at this time.’”
At the time the DDA district was expanded in 2002 as part of a development plan for the Bentwaters apartments, the DDA and Three Rivers City Commission determined that a tax levy would not be applied in the expansion area, only in the original district.
The tabling motion came following a public hearing in which a total of 13 people spoke over a period of about a half hour. They shared a mixed bag of comments regarding the issue, ranging from several calls to dissolve the expanded district to support for levying millage in the entire area. DDA Chair Donna Grubbs also shared information submitted by three other persons who were unable to attend the hearing.
One of the speakers, former Mayor Tom Lowry, suggested that it was “a little premature” to act on the matter. Lowry said, “My fundamental concern here today going forward is that, whatever correction is made better be as legal as humanly possible so I would ask you to table this until you get a written opinion from the State of Michigan. I don’t care if it takes four months to do that.”
A public hearing notice sent by City Clerk Lindsay Howes in advance of the meeting said, “The property tax millage rate proposed to be levied to support the proposed budget will be a subject of this hearing. It went on to say, “The original DDA District (District 1) property owners are paying a 1.9167 property tax millage rate. During the public hearing, the Board members of the DDA will consider implementing the 1.9167 millage rate in both the original DDA District and the expanded DDA District (District 2).
The notice also said, “As a constituent of the DDA, there are programs in place to assist you and your business. The programs include:
• Revolving loan fund – available to businesses for a variety of reasons including inventory, equipment, or building updates;
• Low interest façade loans – available for exterior building work and some interior projects;
• Façade grants – available through the State of Michigan, currently a 75 percent grant with a 25 percent match;
• Rebates for signs, awnings, and painting;
• Sidewalk maintenance including snow removal, sweeping, and cleaning.”
The next DDA Board meeting is scheduled for Thursday, May 20th, at 8 a.m. in the Commission Room at City Hall.
Spring is officially here, having arrived with the vernal equinox at 1:32 Saturday afternoon (March 20th) and plans are taking shape for a longtime spring tradition in Three Rivers, the Main Street Washdown coordinated by the Three Rivers Downtown Development Authority (DDA).
The last two years, young ladies involved in the Girls on the Run program have helped out in efforts reflecting the program’s encouragement for the girls to participate in a community service project. In view of scheduling challenges and the desire to participate again this year, their work will take place on a weekday – Tuesday, May 11th from 4:30 to 6 p.m. – rather than a Saturday morning as in the past.
According to DDA Director Christy Trammell, tasks that will be tackled during the Tuesday work session will include the placement of 72 hanging baskets in holders on decorative light poles in the downtown area, flower planting and trash removal.
In commenting on the Tuesday scheduling, Trammell said, “This should also allow for the area merchants to be able to participate, too as they are already at their stores and can come out when they’ve closed up to participate as well.”
Trammell said the Three Rivers Fire Department has agreed to perform the traditional Saturday morning washdown on either May 8th or 15th.