Buchanan DDA officially dissolved

BUCHANAN — The Buchanan Downtown Development Authority is no more after-action Monday night by the Buchanan City Commission. The fate of the DDA has been focus of commission meetings since late May after months of contention between DDA members and city officials.

Unlike previous meetings where the majority of comments came from residents and business owners wanting to keep the DDA, only two people, DDA chairman Penny Slocum and City Commissioner Cameron Downey spoke in favor of keeping it. In the end, Downey was the only one of five commissioners voting not to dissolve the DDA.

Slocum noted that the DDA board has met twice in the last two weeks, first to elect new officers and then last week to approve a budget, establish committees and then to talk about future projects.

“Give us a chance to prove ourselves. We would really appreciate it,” she said.

Downey told fellow commissioners that they had not gotten input from downtown business owners.

“A lot of downtown business owners are on this call and you did not get input from this group,” he said. “You need to think a little about these people.”

He also noted that the DDA grant/loan program had made a difference for him and others in opening businesses downtown. He questioned what plans are in place for the city to take over that program and to promote economic development if the DDA is no longer there, noting that the loan grant program had made a difference to him and others.

“How many individuals have called into this video the last three months and said they support the DDA?” he asked. “What makes you think that you are more correct than anyone else?”

Mayor Pat Moore, who is on the DDA board along with Downey, acknowledged that the DDA has made efforts to move forward, but said the progress made by DDA board members over the last two weeks had not changed her mind.

“I appreciate all work they did and I know they want to continue,” she said. “I’ve said in spite of all their efforts, my position is consistent because of changes in the DDA law and in tax revenue. There are fewer and fewer dollars available and continuing on this pathway is problematic.”

The most impassioned comments at Monday’s meeting came from Commissioner Mark Weedon. While Weedon had pushed to postpone the vote two weeks ago and said that he wanted to sit down with DDA proponents and see what could be done, Monday he was the most vocal about dissolving it.

“I wanted to come up with a reason for changing my vote,” he said. “I’m tired, everybody’s tired and what they’re tired of is all the promises of what people are going to do and how they will make things better. It’s not going to happen. It’s absolutely not going to happen.”

He compared those fighting to keep the DDA to people trying to hang on to the past.

“Which side do want to be on?” he asked. “Do you want to be working for the future success of Buchanan or sit on the sidelines living on a narrative that what we had was perfect? We’re here about the future and all you want is to talk about the past.”

Commissioner Sean Denison again spoke in favor of dissolving the DDA and said doing so would benefit everyone with more money to spend on economic development.

“With all the drama, Mark and I are being called the bad guys, I just want the funds to be spent more effectively,” he said.

Denison said “removing the chains” of the DDA will make more money available to spend on the downtown with less money spent on administration and the DDA structure.

“If we remove the hurdles of DDA rules and requirements, there will be more to spend on the downtown,” he said.

“I don’t want to have the community sit idly by and think economic opportunity is extinguished because we’re dissolving the DDA,” Weedon said as he challenged people to stay involved and volunteer their time although the DDA has been dissolved. “Others don’t have a DDA and still have economic development.”

Commissioner Dale Toerne didn’t speak during the debate over the DDA issue during the meeting but said during his commissioner comments at the end of meeting that he agreed with Weedon about people not looking to the future.

He said he and his wife began volunteering after moving to the city in the early 2000s.

“We heard a lot of things about Clark Equipment leaving, they were living in the past and never looking to the future,” he said. “Clark has been gone since the 1980s. … We have to look forward, not back and keep an open mind. We have to think 2020 not 1980s.”

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