Buchanan discusses possible revival of city’s DDA

Published 2:27 pm Friday, February 17, 2023

BUCHANAN – A proposal to establish a Corridor Improvement Authority in the city of Buchanan has revived discussion of bringing back the city’s Downtown Development Authority. The City Commission dissolved the DDA nearly three years ago after conflicts arose between commissioners and DDA members.

Community Development Director Rich Murphy raised the idea of establishing a Corridor Improvement Authority (CIA) in the city at Monday’s City Commission meeting. He said putting the new authority in place could be an important economic development tool for the city and capture taxes to raise money for corridor improvement projects.

He said he’s currently investigating with the Michigan Municipal League as to whether the city would be eligible to have one and what has been the experience of other communities that have done so.

According to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, any city, village or township is eligible and such an authority could operate like a DDA in that it can capture revenue through tax increment financing, levy special assessments and issue revenue bonds. It could not levy an ad valorem tax.

Local restauranteur Tony Houser has been active in getting the city’s Main Street program off the ground. He said that while he thought a corridor improvement authority could be a good tool for the city, re-establishing the DDA would serve as a better tool and option.

He noted that a DDA can capture revenue through tax increment financing but can also levy up to two mills on businesses within the district. He told commissioners that they could put the DDA powers under the purview of the city’s planning commission if they would like that better.

Mayor Pro-Tem Mark Weedon seemed to like the CIA idea, noting that the city of Bridgman doesn’t have a DDA but does have several CIAs. Municipalities can have more than one CIA.

City Commissioner Dan Vigansky reminded people of what he called an ugly divorce between the DDA and the City Commission. “I begged the city commission to not abolish the DDA, but they did and shot themselves in the foot,” he said.

Vigansky said he’d like the discussion about either a CIA or a DDA be put on hold for six months as the commission begins the process to hire a new city manager. Commissioners voted last week to end the city’s employment agreement with Heather Grace and approved the separation agreement with her this week.

Besides talking about the CIA, Murphy updated commissioners about other projects such as the future of the historic Ross-Sanders House, city owned residential properties, the demolition of the Baroda Tire structure, the Honor Credit Union renovation project, the Victory Park pavilion and Front Street easements in advance of the Front Street reconstruction.

Commissioners acted on the Ross-Sanders project at the end of Monday’s meeting, approving the drafting of an agreement to sell the house while keeping historic preservation easements in place. The Gateway Foundation has expressed interest in buying the building, Buchanan Preservation Society member Beth Murphy told commissioners.

Commissioners were asked to reconsider their January vote to raise water rates by 43 percent over the next five years. Resident Carla Johnson noted that the increase is coming at a time when the city’s population is declining and getting poorer as people have to deal with inflation and a potential school bond issue that will raise their taxes.

“Those on fixed incomes do not have the money to pay higher utility bills,” she said. “I wonder who do think we are, you want to build high rises and drive us out.”

Vigansky noted that he voted for the water rate hike because the city faces having to spend millions of dollars for infrastructure work. He said he had asked if marijuana revenue could be used to pay for such work but was told that it was an inconsistent source of revenue, unlike raising water rates. “The cold hard fact is that water rates are increasing,” he said.