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.
The process aimed at establishing and utilizing a Local Historic District Ordinance in downtown Three Rivers is moving forward.
Christy Trammell, Executive Director of the Three Rivers Downtown Development Authority (DDA), provided an update on the topic during the March meeting of the DDA Board of Directors Thursday morning (March 18th).
The Three Rivers City Commission set the process in motion February 2nd by adopting a resolution to authorize the appointment of a Historic District Study Committee to conduct a Historic District Study. The commission also appointed the seven-member committee consisting of Trammell, Judy Gilchrist, Larry-Michael Hackenberg, Doug Mitchell, Danielle Moreland, Curt Penny and Jerry Wright.
Trammell reported that the committee has had two meetings so far and said, “We are at the phase now where we are educating the building owners. We will do that on an individual basis. There’s a subcommittee doing that and, hopefully, we’ll be able to see all of them in person, except the ones of live out of town.”
Trammell said there are 69 buildings that will be included in the district and indicated that – in addition to the education activity – the group is doing “field work,” photographing buildings to identify changes that have occurred to both the fronts and backs in the last 22 years, using an earlier photo for comparison.
Trammell said the group is working with Nan Taylor of the Michigan Historic Preservation Network who will come to Three Rivers and “do a public education where we will formally invite all the building owners to come and hear the advantages and the effects that it has on the area.”
Regarding the study committee and its efforts, Trammell said, “We’re pretty excited that the group is actively pursuing this and that they are very passionate about preserving downtown Three Rivers.”
Still another building in downtown Three Rivers is being eyed for rehabilitation.
Tim Raakman, the new owner of 51 North Main Street, has requested establishment of an Obsolete Property Rehabilitation Act (OPRA) District for the property. His application says he would like to renovate the property with a total investment estimated to be $200,000 for windows, doors, brick work and painting.
In action Tuesday evening (March 16th), the Three Rivers City Commission responded to Raakman’s request by scheduling two public hearings for the commission’s next meeting on April 6th, one to consider establishing OPRA District 13, the other to approve the OPRA application for the 51 North Main property.
A staff memo from City Clerk Lindsay Howes and City Manager Joe Bippus explains that, “The goal of an OPRA (designation) is to rehabilitate older buildings into vibrant commercial and commercial housing projects. A community essentially freezes the existing taxable value on a designated facility for up to 12 years. By freezing the taxable value, it provides an incentive for the developer to make significant improvements to a building without increasing the property taxes on the building. The exemption does not apply to the land on which the rehabilitated facility is located and does not apply to personal property.”
The Three Rivers Downtown Development Authority (DDA) has added another tool to its toolbox for helping owners and/or tenants make improvements to downtown buildings.
The new tool is a Downtown Development Authority Loan Program – a façade and interior improvement loan program in conjunction with Southern Michigan Bank and Trust.
The DDA Board of Directors voted to move forward with the program during the group’s February meeting Thursday morning (February 18th).
DDA Director Christy Trammell said one person is already interested in utilizing the program and described the interest rate as “very enticing.” She said the rate – based on “Wall Street prime less one percent floating” – is “a significantly lower rate than what you can get without this program.”
Southern Michigan Bank and Trust has committed $500,000 to the program.
The maximum loan amount is $25,000 per building, although waivers of this maximum can be requested at the time of application.
Eligibility extends to owners and/or tenants of existing buildings within the DDA target area.
Rules for the program say that the term for each loan will be determined base on the particular project and use of funding, but will not exceed five years. However, the amortization period is negotiable.
Applications are available from the DDA office.
The DDA Rebate Committee will review applications to be sure the project is in accordance with DDA design guidelines and the intent of the loan. Following its approval, the DDA Rebate Committee will forward the application to the bank for financial approval.
The loan program is intended to stimulate improvements of downtown commercial buildings.