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Buchanan City Commission sets July 13 hearing to dissolve DDA

BUCHANAN — Buchanan City Commissioners are moving forward with plans to dissolve the Buchanan Downtown Development Authority despite pleas from residents and business owners to slow down the process if not stop it altogether.

Business owners and residents again expressed their displeasure with city commission plans to dissolve the DDA at a public hearing Monday night, while four of five commissioners voted to do just that at Monday’s meeting. Once again, the meeting was hosted virtually, with people connecting via Zoom.

The rift between city officials and the DDA began more than a year ago, with DDA members claiming that the city is draining DDA reserves with management fees and city officials saying that the DDA has become a divisive body not serving the best interests of the downtown.

The debate over the future of the DDA took up most of Monday’s commission meeting. Several residents spoke during the public hearing at the start of the meeting while commissioners spent time debating the pros and cons of the dissolution move during the meeting itself.

In the end, commissioners set a final public hearing on the issue for 7 p.m. July 13 after a first reading of a new ordinance dissolving the DDA. The proposed ordinance states that the projects listed in the DDA’s current plan have been completed and that the DDA is facing a time of declining revenue with a changing state tax structure.

If the DDA is dissolved, the body established in 1976 will be replaced with a new economic development committee. The proposed ordinance also calls for DDA property and assets including more than $300,000 in funds to be transferred to the city.

Several people spoke during Monday’s public hearing and then later during public comments. All favored keeping the DDA and noted the work the DDA has done over the years to revitalize the downtown and support businesses and events.

Former City Commissioner Dan Vigansky asserted that the only people disruptive at DDA meetings have been city officials and staff.

“I want to put it on the record that the most disruptive people were city staff and commissioners,” he said. “This is something Pat Moore and Bill Marx have wanted to do since she became mayor.”

Other city residents spoke as well.

“The DDA has made the downtown great,” resident Beth Murphy said. “DDAs in other places appear to be working. Why does the city refuse to work with them? This is deplorable. These people are your constituents.”

“Pat Moore has been trying to discredit the DDA, and it’s now reaching a crescendo,” added resident Randall Peart. “Many have come out strongly against dissolving the DDA. It’s inexplicable that there’s only one city commissioner voting against it.”

“To the casual observer, the mayor’s sudden rush to dissolve is about avoiding reporting the current year’s performance to the Michigan treasury,” he added. “Why the sudden rush to judgment? I see it as a means to get out of reporting requirements.”

Resident Monroe Lemay asked commissioners to hold off on a decision.

“A lot of us were not aware of what was going on. Now obviously a lot of us are concerned,” she said. “Can we still have a chance to save the DDA and rectify the situation to see if it can be fixed before a final vote?”

DDA member Fran Terry also asked for more time before the commission votes.

“It would be nice if you could slow down the decision,” she said. “If the DDA goes away, give us time to finish out the plan and spend the money down so we don’t have to send it back.”

Commissioners also spoke out before the vote to set the date for a final public hearing on dissolving the DDA on July 13. All but Commissioner Cameron Downey voted and spoke in favor of dissolution. Downey, a downtown business owner and DDA member, spoke against dissolving the DDA.

He noted that he and others wanting to get grants or loans from the DDA for their businesses have had to wait weeks and months to get answers and assistance from city staff. He added that he and other DDA members have not been able to get city staff to answer their questions over the last year.

Moore defended the plan to dissolve the DDA and set up the new committee.

“This is a structural problem, not a personality problem,” she said. “I’m trying to open up opportunities. I think we can do better.”

“People should get behind the new committee which won’t be hindered by the state rules and requirements for DDAs,” she added. “We’re walking away from the restrictions of state control over what the DDA can do. We’re not walking away from the downtown.”

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