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DDA: And then there were four



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September 25, 2013 - No meetings of the Oxford Downtown Development Authority (DDA) will take place for the foreseeable future as its nine-seat board only has four members left, not enough for a quorum to conduct business.

Last week, DDA board members Jim Bielak, Tom Jones and Anna Taylor all simultaneously resigned from the board, which already had two vacant seats.

"It's time for me to move on," Taylor said.

Until the village council appoints some replacements, the DDA board will be unable to meet and conduct business. The board needs a minimum of five members in attendance to do that.

DDA Chairman Bill Dunn asked all three to reconsider and continue their service, but they all declined.

"You guys have done a lot of hard work for the community," he said. "I would hate to see the three (of you) go."

Dunn asked Taylor, "If I got on my knees, would that help?"

Dunn then pushed his chair back and knelt beside her.

Gratitude and appreciation were expressed to the three resigning members for their service.

"Thank you for the time that you spent on this board," said Oxford Village Councilman Bryan Cloutier, who attended the DDA meeting as an audience member. "Thank you for the work that you gave this community."

To anyone who's been following the DDA's financial struggles over the last few months, the resignations should come as no surprise.

The authority's 2013-14 budget, which took effect July 1, allows for very minimal spending as almost every line item was either reduced to zero or cut to the bone. For example, there's no longer a full-time DDA director as that position was eliminated in order to save money.

The village council had to transfer $15,000 from the municipality's reserves to the DDA's budget, so the authority wouldn't end the 2012-13 fiscal year on June 30 with a deficit.

Discussions at village council meetings over the DDA's financial situation often contained contentious comments and accusations.

Referring to the village council and DDA board, Dunn noted he's "not proud of the way both sides handled" the budget situation, especially "all that finger-pointing."

"There's no way anybody could know that we were going to end up $50,000 short," said Dunn, who described the DDA's budget crunch as a "perfect storm."

Dunn was referring to the fact that the DDA had approximately $48,000 less in revenue to work with than was originally projected for the 2012-13 fiscal year. A combination of declining property values, property owners winning appeals at the state Tax Tribunal and delinquent/unpaid personal property taxes led to this revenue shortfall.

Bielak agreed with Dunn's "perfect storm" comment, however, he said the DDA's financial problems accrued over time, so it wasn't just the responsibility of the current board.

But "when the finger-pointing started, that's who it landed on," he said. "In part, this board would have to take responsibility for some of that."

Bielak noted some "fundamental changes" need to happen with regard to the DDA's finances such as obtaining accounting software that keeps the DDA and village on the same page and the DDA gaining control of its own bank account.

In asking Taylor, Bielak and Jones to stay, Dunn told them, "I think things will get better."

But Taylor said whether or not things improve will be determined by the decisions that elected and appointed officials make concerning the future direction of the downtown and the community as a whole.

To her, the choice is between either "moving forward" or allowing the "special interests" to continue to "strangle this community" and destroy "the spirit that so many people had for the future."

"We'll have the answer to that question by the people that replace us (on the DDA board)," Taylor said.

Taylor noted there's a "cohesiveness" in the downtown area that's not present in the rest of the community.

She said when people come into the downtown businesses, "they feel it."

"They want to move here. They want to live here," Taylor said. "I've had people say to me, 'I want to be a part of the downtown.'"

However, outside the downtown area, Taylor said the atmosphere is "vicious."

"It's past vicious," she added.

Village President Pro-Tem Dave Bailey took partial responsibility for what happened between the council and DDA.

"(The) DDA has been jerked around a bit a bit more than was necessary or proper," he said. "To the extent that I was part of that, it's my fault. I did speak out against some of the things that happened. I didn't speak loudly enough apparently. And we're where we are now."

"In my opinion, if the village council had handled things better over the last year, the last year would not have been so adverse to the finances of the DDA," Bailey noted. "Things, in my opinion, would look a lot better right now."

There was some agreement that one of the things that affected the DDA's finances was the village continuing to take funds from it to pay for police and public works services provided to the downtown area.

Prior to the current fiscal year, the village had been taking $60,000 annually for police services and $85,000 for public works services. Council reduced those amounts to $51,000 and $72,250, respectively, for the 2013-14 DDA budget.

Dunn believes the village should take some money for those services because if the DDA didn't exist, it wouldn't capture any money from the village property tax, so all of that revenue would go directly to the municipality to fund its services.

However, he doesn't believe the current amounts are justified. Dunn urged the village council to take a "good look" at these numbers and "do what's right and fair."

He wasn't the only one who spoke against the village routinely diverting a large amount of money from the DDA's budget to its coffers.

"We need to work very hard in this coming year to get the (village's) dependency off of the DDA and get that money where it rightfully belongs," Cloutier 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.
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