Organizers could try for a future election
By Jim Newell
LAKE ORION — A grassroots effort to get a proposal on the Nov. 8 general election ballot to repeal the Lake Orion Downtown Development Authority’s funding source likely will not happen after petition circulators failed to get enough valid signatures.
Lake Orion resident Harry Stephen, leader of the petition drive, learned on Monday that the effort failed by 12 signatures. He was notified that 358 signatures were valid, putting him just shy of the 370 he needed. The deadline was 4 p.m. Aug. 16 to get the issue on the November ballot.
Stephen and others want part of the taxes that the DDA collects to go to the village general fund to pay for things – such as infrastructure improvements and operating costs – that benefits all residents.
The petition sought to repeal village Ordinance 36.05.
“This Ordinance approved a 4th amendment to the Tax Increment Financing Plan for the Lake Orion Downtown Development Authority, originally approved in 1985, continuing their tax capture from the Village of Lake Orion and other effected (sic) Taxing Authorities until December 2039,” the petition reads, in part.
The petition language ballot question language reads: “Shall the Village of Lake Orion repeal Ordinance 36.05 and cease the capture of taxes from the Village of Lake Orion and other effected (sic) Taxing Authorities without terminating the Lake Orion Downtown Development Authority.”
The Lake Orion DDA captures taxes on properties within its district. The Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Plan sets the tax captures and is approved by the village council. The DDA is also periodically “renewed” by the council. If it is not, the DDA would “sunset” and cease to exist at the conclusion of the current plan.
Stephen, who was on the council for 20 years as a council member and president before leaving in 2006, and a troupe of 11 volunteers canvassed Lake Orion to collect signatures and turned in their first batch of signatures on Aug. 2.
Half of those signatures were deemed invalid because the circulator did not check the box indicating that they were volunteer petition circulators.
In the first batch of petitions, there were 162 good signatures, Stephen said.
Petitioners went back out on Aug. 10 and Aug. 11. On Aug. 12 Stephen turned in a total of 410 signatures to the village clerk’s office.
Stephen said he did not receive any direct formal notification that the petitions did not pass. He reached out to the township clerk, who informed him that there were only 358 valid signatures.
Council Member Michael Lamb has been outspoken in his opposition to the DDA capturing taxes on residential property, and on the proposed new developments in the village.
He has stated he believes taxes on existing residential property and the new residential developments – like the Ehman Center rehabilitation and Moceri projects – should go to village coffers.
Stephen said he and supporters decided to circulate petitions because the village council was not making progress.
“The council was not making a resolution or any moves in this direction. There was discussion by Lamb early on about reducing the area of the DDA. (They) took no action. Subsequently there was some discussion about whether there should be a meeting between the DDA and the village (council) and that failed,” Stephen said.
Lamb has been presenting data for at least the past eight months and has asked the council to look at amending the DDA’s tax capture district or eliminating the tax capture altogether.
Council members, influenced by public backlash from DDA supporters, have largely declined to take up the issue.
Council President Ken Van Portfliet has said the council needs “accurate” data before making any decisions. In the past eight months the council has not presented any data to counter Lamb’s assertions.
The DDA’s annual operating budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year is just over $1 million.
The DDA district includes business and residential properties along M-24, in the downtown business district and the residential neighborhoods to the north and east of the downtown. The DDA captures taxes within its Tax Increment Financing District based on the increase in property values since the base year of the DDA, which is 1985.
The DDA and village council did form a joint committee, appointing three members from each body, in June to discuss these issues and how the two could work together going forward.
“To date there’s not been a meeting of that group,” Stephen said. “My activity is, since the council was not really ready to do anything with regard to the subject of the DDA and its financing, that it should then come to a ballot issue – democracy in action.”
Stephen said he will ask the council to look at altering the DDA district and amending tax capture to reflect the current business areas (downtown and M-24) and not continue with the 1985 boundaries, which is approximately 50 percent residential.
“That’s one of the pleas I’m going to be making to council,” Stephen said.
“The DDA is a special interest group established by the village council for a special area. Originally it went to a very large area. Over the past 37 years it could have been reduced in area, it wasn’t. There are many things that could have taken place,” Stephen said.
“Had council, within their powers, been willing to do some adjustments in either the district or the base year, I wouldn’t have done anything. But since nothing was taking place, let democracy happen.”