July 31, 2013 - After many years of discussion and planning, it appears the East (or Edison) Alley project is finally moving forward.
Last week, the Oxford Village Council voted 5-0 to pay the Pontiac-based Nowak & Fraus Engineers up to $3,600 to do some preliminary engineering on the project and direct the village manager to present various funding options for future phases of the alley.
The project calls for constructing a two-lane, 28-foot-wide road, just east of M-24, from Ensley St. to the Holy Cross Lutheran Church's parking lot. Another 16-foot-wide, one-lane road would then be constructed from the alley's southern end to M-24. Both roads would contain bicycle lanes.
Village officials are looking to do the project in three phases due to the municipality's financial limitations.
Phase one would consist of constructing a gravel road. Phase two calls for constructing a 1,050-foot storm sewer. The third phase involves paving the alley with a 4-inch asphalt surface.
According to an estimate, the entire project, between construction and engineering, would cost $265,586. Of that, $252,000 would be actual construction.
Bill Dunn, chairman of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), told council he wants to see alternative funding options explored for this project.
"I don't think public funds ought to be the only source of income," he said. "We need to talk about special assessment districts. It needs to be talked about now, so we have the ability to move on from phase one, two and three."
Dunn's suggestion was based on the fact that this new road will directly benefit the property owners along it because it will enhance the value of their land and enable them to develop or sell it for commercial purposes.
Councilman Elgin Nichols also expressed concern over how the East Alley would be financed.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg," he said, referring to the $3,600 in preliminary design work. "Where's the other money coming (from)?"
Councilwoman Sue Bossardet indicated she agrees with Dunn.
"It needs to be a three-way share project," she said.
By that, Bossardet meant that East Alley should be funded by the village, DDA and the property owners along that future roadway.
But that idea didn't appeal to everyone on council.
"I think historically, the village has not had special assessments for roads. The entire village pays for it," said Councilwoman Maureen Helmuth. "I think for the main road, like all the other village roads, (it) should just come out of the general fund."
"I'm not sure we have money in the general fund to cover this," noted village President Tony Albensi.
"I understand this project's been going on for a long time (and) nothing's been done," Nichols said. "I think it should get done, but on the other hand, I don't want to see the general fund get drained."
But Helmuth doesn't believe the property owners along the future alley should be penalized with a special assessment.
"They've been paying into the village general fund and their (frontage is) on M-24. The village doesn't (maintain) M-24," she explained. "So, they've been paying (taxes) for all of our roads and now, this is their road, their alley."
Helmuth noted the village hasn't put any money into its road fund for years.
"We used to put (in), I think it was 2 mills, just (for) roads every year," she said.
But that practice ended when the village reduced its overall millage rate and started cutting its budget.
"We haven't done any improvements to roads," Helmuth said. As a result, some village streets are "in really poor shape."
"We need to do something, I agree. But you've got to have the money to do it," Nichols responded.
Manager Joe Young noted if the properties along the alley are utilized for commercial/office use, as they're zoned for, the village mandates paved parking areas, which in turn, requires the owners to provide drainage.
"And that's where the option of tying into a (village) storm drain could be a special assessment," he said. "I'm sure it would be much cheaper (for the property owners) than creating leaching basins on their own."
Albensi believes a special assessment district is "obviously something (council) should consider."
"It may not be the best option, but when this (alley) is completed, it would definitely benefit those businesses in that area," he said. "Whether special assessment districts have been historically not done in the village, that doesn't concern me at this point."
"Historically, it may not have been done, but change isn't always necessarily a bad thing," Albensi added
Helmuth pointed out the East Alley project is going to benefit more than just those properties along it. The village would benefit from the additional property tax revenue that would be generated should those properties be developed or increase in value.
She also noted that special assessments, unlike property taxes, cannot be used as an income tax deduction.
"That's a benefit of paying the tax and not the special assessment," Helmuth said.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.