By Sheila R. McAfee
Downtown development authorities rely on tax revenue growth to fund revitalization projects in their communities. Unfortunately, the economic turmoil of the last five years has not boded well for some of these entities.
In Trenton, there is uncertainty about the future of the DDA. Created in 1996 as a means of revitalizing the downtown area, the group is credited with the charming facelift of West Jefferson Avenue and upgrades to the downtown district’s infrastructure.
With those complete, there is some uncertainty about what comes next, especially when DDA discretionary funds are based on the growth of the tax base within the legally defined DDA district.
Larry Pettinga, DDA vice chairman, said it has been six months since the group has met and the coffers are depleted. When he spoke with the Trenton Trib, Pettinga was planning to set up a meeting with city administrators to discuss the group’s future.
“A few years ago, we were near the $1 million mark,” Pettinga said. “I think we now have less than $500,000.”
Assistant City Administrator Scott Church confirmed those figures, and said the declining property values is directly connected to the economic downturn. The budget projection for the coming year is $487,000 in tax capture from those who reside and own businesses in the DDA district.
“Of that, $448,000 is earmarked for debt requirements, and $36,000 is returned to the city each year for care of the area by the Department of Public Services,” Church said.
Pettinga, a longtime Trenton businessman who owns The Framery and Gallery, said the streetscape, funded by federal grants and the issuance of bonds being repaid by the DDA, provided a major update to the area that included new sidewalks with pavers, boulevards, lighting, trees and roadway paving.
The council also has required the DDA to pick up a share of the debt for a federally mandated sewer separation project conducted in the downtown area in the mid-1990s, which is the largest single expense item in its annual budget.
The group also gets involved in community programming that takes place downtown, such as the Scarecrow Festival, which it has helped sponsor and organize in years past. Pettinga acts as treasurer for the Downtown Event Planners, which organizes the fall festival.
Pettinga also expressed concern about the recent departures of several DDA members, who comprise district business owners and residents appointed by the mayor and council. Church said Chairman Mark Slagle and members Gerri Dickey and Dr. Noel Jackson all have submitted their resignations.
Jackson, who has been part of the group since its earliest days and was a vocal proponent of the streetscape project, said he resigned from the DDA due to time constraints.
As president of Trenton Rotary last year, and partner in a busy downtown dental practice, Jackson said he was not able to make any of the DDA meetings last year. He will assume a leadership role at the district level of Rotary this year, and continues to be involved with various community organizations, including the Downriver Youth Performing Arts Center.
“I took a step back and said, ‘Something has to give,’” Jackson said. “I am pleased with what we accomplished during my time with the DDA.”
Stack said the role of the DDA should not be confused with that of the city’s Economic Development Committee, which she formed shortly after being elected mayor.
“The function of the EDC is to keep an eye on the progress of various developments throughout the city in an effort to keep them moving along,” she said.
Church said Trenton’s situation isn’t different from other communities with DDAs. Every community has been hit with declining tax revenues.
“I haven’t heard of any authorities being dissolved, but, on the other hand, I don’t hear about many new DDAs being formed like they used to be,” he said.
DDAs in some neighboring communities, such as Wyandotte and Brownstown, however, continue to thrive and have significant influence on community growth efforts.