Almont Council member Melinda Steffler, Council President Steven R. Schneider, and President Pro-Tem Tim Dyke sift through their papers during the council's very contentious first meeting of the new year. photo by Tom Wearing.
January 09, 2019ALMONT — The future of the Almont Downtown Development Authority appears to be in serious jeopardy.
During a "straw vote" on Wednesday, Jan. 2, Almont Village Council members agreed 4-3 to move forward with passage of an ordinance to dissolve the Almont Downtown Development Authority.
Following the majority vote, Council President Steven R. Schneider advised the audience that the council's action would represent the "first reading" toward adoption of the ordinance to dissolve.
Schneider said a second reading will take place Tuesday, Feb. 5, to be preceded by a public hearing and followed immediately thereafter by a second and definitive vote to dissolve the DDA.
Council members who voted yes in the straw poll to adopt DDA Ordinance #204 included Stephen R. Schneider, Stephen C. Schneider, Gary Peltier and Dave Love.
Those opposed were Council President Pro-Tem Tim Dyke and council members Melinda Steffler and Patricia Biolchini.
The straw poll took place despite public comments regarding the lack of previous discussion about the matter; the sudden placement of the issue on the meeting agenda; and questions about what individual(s) or organization proposed the ordinance.
Councilman Gary Peltier attempted to end the speculation by stating it was he who broached the matter months earlier.
"We were looking at ways to bring in extra money for infrastructure upgrades," said Peltier. "The village has a lot of needs. It's really about economics."
Peltier was referring to the $107,000 the DDA captured this year in taxes, along with its $305,000 reserve fund for future projects.
Steven R. Schneider opined that the Almont DDA had been productive, but that it had served its purpose.
"The DDA has accomplished a lot of good things," said Schneider, "but it has fulfilled its statutory obligations. I've been advocating for months that we have to bring in more revenue to make improvements."
He was not specific about where the DDA funds would be used or how costs currently incurred by the DDA would be paid for in the future.
Terry Roach, a community volunteer and former Almont DDA Chairman, was
visibly upset with the
idea of dissolving the
DDA to bring in extra
He suggested the village's current financial woes are due to a series of bad decisions on the part of the council.
"This is just a money grab," said Roach. "You've been band-aiding problem after problem.
"You've paid out $100,000 in severance packages and everything is a secret." he said. "Now you want the money from the DDA. You need to invoke a vote to investigate yourselves."
Newly-elected Council member Biolchini wondered why there was such urgency to approve the ordinance.
"This seems really hasty to me," said Biolchini. "The public appearance of what is happening here suggests impropriety."
Steffler added, "I feel we would be taking a giant step backward by dissolving the DDA."
President Pro-Tem Tim Dyke was also struck by the suddenness and lack of specific information provided regarding the potential benefits and/or drawbacks if the ordinance is adopted.
"I'm concerned and confused about the immediacy and urgency to do this—without having done our due diligence," said Dyke. "To my knowledge, there was no prior discussion. This is not our normal protocol for doing things.
"To adopt an ordinance in this fashion is incomprehensible to me," Dyke said following the meeting. "This came out of left field. I think it would be a rash way to increase revenue.
"I'm at a loss for how we can make such a decision without having the information and not knowing all of the ramifications."
DDA Director Kim Schall, who is paid $20,000 annually, reminded the council that if the DDA is eliminated, the cost of services currently paid for by the DDA would become the responsibility of the village. Such responsibilities would include organizing popular community events such as the Almont Heritage Fest, Holly Day Light Parade, maintenance of the Fountain Park, downtown street lighting, tree and flower plantings and more.
It was suggested by Steven R. Schneider that event organizing could be taken on by an independent "project manager," though he provided no information regarding the cost of hiring such a person.
Still seething in the aftermath of the first vote, Roach insisted that council members who supported the DDA's dissolution explain the urgency and timing of the ordinance.
"We deserve to know why there had been no discussion by the council prior to that meeting," Roach said over the weekend. "This is being ramrodded through for reasons other than paying for infrastructure upgrades."
The proposed dissolution of the DDA coincides with an ongoing legal dispute about who owns parking spaces in the parking lot at the former Lane-Swayze Clinic, which was recently purchased by developer Steve Francis from Dr. Robert Lane, Steven R. Schneider's father-in-law.
The DDA Board recently hired an attorney to address their concerns over ownership of those parking spaces.
Special DDA meeting
In light of the DDA's uncertain status, the DDA Board scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday (Jan. 8) at the Almont municipal offices to discuss new and old business.
Among the items discussed were Almont Village Council's Ordinance No. 204 to dissolve the DDA; Historical Society building needs; and a budget review as it may relate to Ordinance No. 204.
Also up for discussion were issues pertaining to the parking lot at the former Lane-Swayze Clinic.
When it's gone, it's gone
Lapeer County Commissioner Ian Kempf, who was present at the Jan. 2 meeting, said if the Almont DDA is dissolved, chances of its being resurrected in the future are highly unlikely.
"The chance of the County agreeing to a newly established TIF (Tax Increment Financing District) that captures tax money would be very slim," said Kempf. "The County's budget is tight and I can't see that happening.
"That's not to say the County Board does not support tax abatements that benefit local communities," he said. "But not entities that capture funds which otherwise would come to the county."
Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.