- By Megan Kelley
LAKE ORION — It has been a contentious few months for the Lake Orion Downtown Development Authority as some residents have made efforts to add wording to the November ballot to eliminate the DDA tax capture.
Residents began circulating petitions around the village collecting signatures for the measure.
“Shall the Village of Lake Orion repeal Ordinance 36.05 and cease the capture of taxes from the Village of Lake Orion and other affected Taxing Authorities without terminating the Lake Orion Downtown Development Authority,” reads the petition.
If successful, the move would eliminate the DDA’s funding and essentially render the DDA inoperable due to lack of a funding source after the current fiscal year.
Despite having enough signatures, half of the petitions returned to the village clerk’s office were rejected because the petition circulator forgot to check the box stating that the circulator was a volunteer circulator.
Petition organizers were informed that the issue would not be placed on the ballot for that reason.
So, petitioners went back out and sought more signatures and turned those back in by the deadline. After a review, organizers were informed they did not have enough valid signatures to put the language on the ballot.
This petition follows several months of back-and-forth between the village council and DDA where some members of the village council have called to disband the DDA and/or redraw the DDA district to exclude residential property.
One of the more vocal members of the DDA board is Orion Township Supervisor Chris Barnett who has consistently been a staunch advocate for the DDA.
“The petition, if you’re not familiar, basically said they want to appeal the ordinance that allowed our continuation of the plan and the last line said ‘but not eliminate the DDA.’ And just to be crystal clear, this isn’t an opinion, this is a fact, if that was successful, the DDA is eliminated. They take away 100 percent of our funding, which that would do, there is no DDA,” Barnett said.
“I know some people that signed it said ‘No, they’re not getting rid of the DDA, they just don’t want the DDA to collect the taxes on the new development on the lake’ – that’s a lie. I’m not saying everyone circulating the petitions were trying to mislead people; I think some people were, unfortunately. But this is a time we should be vocal in a positive way,” Barnett said. “I’m proud to serve with you all, we’re all volunteers here, not one of us is getting paid to be here and we’re all here for the same reason: we love our downtown. There’s never been a more important time to be obnoxious fans of downtown Lake Orion and I’m one of them and I know you all are too.”
Barnett also attributed much of the downtown’s success to the DDA.
“The downtown is amazing because of this amazing tool called the Downtown Development Authority, which, we just got 14 years of accreditation. We’re doing things right, we’re rocking a rolling, other communities are copying what we’re doing and to eliminate this would be catastrophic,” Barnett said. “It would be catastrophic for downtown Lake Orion to eliminate our DDA.”
Barnett also said that the amount of “misinformation” circling around the DDA is concerning and suggested that those who are interested in learning more about what the DDA does should reach out to the DDA.
He added that residents within the DDA district will pay the same amount in taxes whether the DDA exists or not.
Board Vice Chair Sam Caruso echoed Barnett’s comments, saying that he has friends in other local downtown’s that are “envious” of the work the DDA in Lake Orion does.
According the DDA Executive Director Molly LaLone, since 2003 the DDA has contributed $4.4 million in public investment, $26 million of private sector investment, 227 full-time jobs, 71 new businesses, 166,284 square-feet of new downtown space, 182 housing units, 169 building rehabilitations, 17,798 volunteer hours, $274,000 worth of sponsorship and 510 special events.
“We are very fortunate to have such a large group of people who desire to be in this community, in this area. If you look at all of the development that is desired to take place here, they could go anywhere in Oakland County but they are choosing our community. That ought to tell you something, this is a desired place to be,” said board Chairperson Debbie Burgess.
The DDA board of directors meets regularly at 6:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday of the month in council chambers at Village Hall, 21 E. Church St.
Online: downtownlakeorion.org. Agendas are available under the “Boards” tab on the village website, lakeorion.org.