Port Sanilac dissolves downtown authority
Since its establishment in 1990, opinions around the village have differed about the organization.
Some people believe it is a vital tool in bringing growth and progress to the rural lakeside community. These folks view its dissolution as a step backward.
Others believe the idea of a DDA may have been too big for the village of 608 fulltime residents.
In the end, it was what a majority of the village council thought that mattered.
Village President Ray Mach told the News the DDA recently approached the council with a report requesting to have its circumstances assessed.
“Since it is the duty of the council to oversee the DDA, it complied with the request,” said Mach. “Council took a look at ten items which were established at the DDA’s founding as its original objectives for the next 20 years.”
Mach listed the items as creation of a five to 10- year development plan, filling store fronts and keeping them filled, beautification, streetscapes, sidewalk improvements, better signage, enhanced street lighting, purchases of property, parking lots, and the cleanup of vacant properties.
“It’s now been 27 years,” said Mach. “Council’s evaluation determined that DDA has completed its plan. No further plan has been established. DDA did a lot. It made its best attempt to benefit the community as a whole. We asked the question: ‘If the activity is complete, should we dissolve the DDA or create a new plan?’ Six of seven council members voted to dissolve it.” Council member Sue Balysh was the lone no vote.
“It was a hard decision,” said Balysh. “There was nothing negative in it. I just needed more time to think about it.”
Don Morath, chairman of the DDA until last week, said, “It is entirely the council’s decision. They made their decision on Tuesday, March 7, to dissolve the DDA effective Thursday, March 9 at 11:59 p.m. We had a meeting scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m. President Mach appeared at our meeting and presented us a letter with instructions.”
Morath added, “There is no appeal right under the law. Questions about future developments in Port Sanilac should now be referred to the village council.”
DDA member Gale Travis said he wasn’t surprised by the council’s move, but was somewhat taken aback by the suddenness of it.
“Thursday evening, we got a letter forbidding any action and instructing us to cease all functions immediately,” said Travis. “The DDA has about $90,000. The village council accepted all our assets, including things like the parking lots and some flags. We will be advertising in the paper for 60 days notifying anybody who has an outstanding claim against DDA of the dissolution.”
The council’s action did not sit well with everybody.
“The decision is mind-boggling, deflating,” said Joe O’Mara, of Sanilac Township, a retired accountant who was chairman of the DDA until last November when he quit.
“Council doesn’t want to do anything. They don’t want this town to develop. It’s un-American to not want to grow, prosper, and be better.
“I was DDA chairman for a short time and I quit. All the council did was set up red herrings and roadblocks to everything. They are extremely narrow minded.
“The village is in decline,” continued O’Mara. “Why should that be? We have the lake. We have the harbor. Such great potential. It’s worth fighting for.”
O’Mara described the problem this way: “There is a lack of vision. There is a lack of leadership from the council. Nothing has happened in my lifetime. The retirees and the lakefront residents want things to stay the same. We’ve gotten to the point where 50 percent of the permanent residents are living below the poverty line. Our objective ought to be to increase property values and develop.”
In contradiction to Mach’s assertion that no further plan has been established by the DDA, O’Mara contends that the DDA had engaged a lawyer and come up with a revised plan a couple of months ago.
“The problem is not that we don’t have a plan,” said O’Mara. “The problem is we don’t want to develop. Look at what happened with the harbor hotel. That was a viable plan.”
Mach said, “I don’t mind criticism. I believe in looking at opposing views. I’m concerned about, and want to have, a broader impact on the well-being of the community as a whole, not just the area of the four-corners.
“Council has a community development subcommittee. It can take up Main Street programs and work on the Renovation-Ready Cities program. A dormant DDA does nothing to move the village forward. It’s accumulating monies for no plan, or having a plan which can’t capture any revenue.”
O’Mara said that by their decision, council is walking away from $40,000 per year in funding to spur downtown development.
Mach said that he wants to see the funds used for things that benefit more residents, such as street, water, and sewer repairs and maintenance.
O’Mara alleged that the village has nearly a million dollars in cash which it is just sitting on. “That tells me village residents are being over-charged for services,” he said. “Only one municipality in Michigan has ever dissolved its DDA. That was Pontiac. That was for insolvency. That’s not the case here.”
Mach said lots of things are going on in Port Sanilac.
“Council is taking an active role in planning for the future. We are redoing our ordinance to make it more welcoming. We are developing guidelines for new development. We are trying to form a fire authority. And, in keeping with fiscal responsibility, we are establishing a fund equity. I want to see a percentage of the budget committed to building fund equity every year. We are working on establishing an unrestricted fund equity and a policy to maintain it.”
On another subject, Mach said that, though there may be some changes in sponsorship and funding sources, he expected Port Sanilac to once again play host to the popular Blues Festival in early August.