Source: Sherman Publications

My Way
Proposed streetscape is beautiful -- now, where's the money coming from?

by CJ Carnacchio

February 29, 2012

Thereís no denying that the streetscape concept proposed for downtown Oxford is absolutely beautiful.

In fact, Iíd go so far as to say itís dazzling, even breathtaking. Itís obvious that a lot of time, effort and thought went into creating this plan. Kudos to the planners!

The images shown at the Feb. 20 Downtown Development Authority (DDA) meeting painted quite the blue sky picture of how wonderful things could look if weíre willing to spend $4.66 million to make it happen.

But ay, thereís the rub. The cost is no small matter and it certainly shouldnít be brushed aside as a minor obstacle in the pursuit of this grand vision. Dreams donít happen without dollars Ė no matter how much we all think good thoughts.

Now, weíve been told that $3.66 million of that total could be eligible for Transportation Enhancement Grant funding from the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). Weíve also been told that if awarded such a grant, MDOT typically pays 70 percent and requires a 30 percent match from the locals.

Forgive me, but I just canít see MDOT giving Oxford $2.56 million for this project. If I were MDOT Ė which has to look at the Big Picture Ė Iíd see very little wisdom or value in handing out such a large chunk of funds for a brand new streetscape in a small village in northern Oakland County.

Sure, Oxfordís very important to those of us who live, work and own property here, but itís fairly insignificant on Lansingís political radar. Thatís not a slam, itís reality.

Downtown Rochester has a much grander reputation than downtown Oxford and MDOTís only giving it $600,000 for its $1.4 million streetscape project. The other $800,000 is coming from Rochesterís DDA. The remaining $6.2 million MDOTís budgeted for Rochesterís renovation is for repaving the streets, which carry MDOTís top priority Ė traffic.

Frankly, if I were MDOT, thereís no way I would give Oxford $2.56 million because then Iíd have every other community knocking on my door, looking for a handout.

But thereís absolutely nothing wrong with asking so, I say go for it Ė ask away. Letís assume MDOTís feeling generous these days, has a few cocktails at lunch before it starts handing out grants, and gives Oxford everything it wants.

Or letís assume our state representative, Brad Jacobsen, is able to pin down some faceless MDOT apparatchik and force them to cut us a check. (Brad, can you master the Figure-Four Leglock? How about the Camel Clutch?)

In either case, Oxfordís DDA would still have to come up with $2.1 million, which isnít exactly chump change.

Given the proposed DDA operating budget for 2012-13 is approximately $587,000 and the entityís fund balance is projected to be around $66,000 by June 30 and could be $3,359 by June, 30, 2013 (these numbers are subject to change), itís safe to assume the DDA does not have the necessary funds to pull this off.

Yes, the DDA could look for grants from other sources to help cover its $2.1 million portion and I sincerely hope it does.

But remember, you need to have matching funds for any grant you receive, so itís not exactly free money as some people seem to think. Also, the grant game is much, much more competitive than it used to be. Everybodyís got their hands out these days, so nothingís a sure thing anymore.

I really hope the DDA does not consider borrowing any money for this project. The last thing anybody needs is more debt. Right now, the DDA owes $1.56 million in principal from two previous bond issues and pays $145,000 annually in principal and interest.

I know itís the American way Ė why put off until tomorrow what you can borrow for today, then make future generations pay Ė but itís a habit that will ultimately ruin us.

Of course, the DDA could have some extra money to set aside for this project if the village wasnít forcing it to pay a combined $145,000 annually for police and DPW services.

But again, we all know the village council isnít going to release itís iron grip on that money, so that ideaís out.

Itís amazing how money thatís really supposed to be used for economic development ends up back in the villageís coffers for basic municipal services. Anyway . . .

Iíll say this Ė if the DDA can convince MDOT to pony up $2.56 million; and if the DDA can get the majority of its $2.1 million share from other grant sources; and if the DDA can pay for whateverís left without borrowing one thin dime; and if the DDA can figure out how to pay an additional $30,000 to $40,000 per year to maintain this new streetscape, then I vow to wholeheartedly support the new streetscape project from start to finish.

Finally, Iíd like to comment on something DDA Chairman and Oxford Village Councilman Kevin Stephison said following the streetscape presentation.

ďI know a lot of us are used to living in the Land of Canít. I hear that an awful lot in government. I hear it an awful lot in business,Ē he said.

Actually, I wish more people in government lived in the Land of Canít Ė or at least visited once in a while. From where I sit, most government folks live in the Land of Can.

To paraphrase President Barack Obama when he was on the stump during the 2008 campaign, it seems to me government is always saying, ďYes, we can . . . spend your money. Yes, we can . . . increase the debt. Yes, we can . . . expand government programs. Yes, we can . . . raise taxes.Ē

Government most definitely lives in the Land of Can.

Itís the taxpayers who are living in the Land of Canít.

We canít pay our bills. We canít get ahead. We canít afford the things we need. We canít afford the things we want. We canít catch a break, period.

Yes, I do believe we can Ė and should Ė improve downtown Oxford. But right now, we canít afford this plan.

Maybe bits and pieces of it here and there over time, but certainly not the whole thing at once.

Itís not ďnegativeĒ to point this out, itís simply being realistic, which is a mindset that some like to castigate as ďnegativeĒ because they donít believe in dissent of any kind. Positive thinking is no match for stone-cold reality.